The Virginia Street Bridge from “The Misfits”Aug 15th, 2011 | By Lindsay | Category: Marilyn Monroe Locations
Another Marilyn Monroe location that I dragged my dad and grandmother out to stalk while visiting Reno, Nevada last month was the famed Virginia Street Bridge, aka the “Bridge of Sighs”, which was featured in the 1961 film The Misfits. As I mentioned in last Friday’s post about the Washoe Country Courthouse, during the first half of the Twentieth Century, Reno was known as “the Divorce Capital of the World” and the “Great Divide” due to its lenient divorce laws. People from all over the United States would temporarily relocate to the “Biggest Little City in the World” in order to be granted a quickie divorce, or to get “the six week cure” as divorces were dubbed in 1931 when residency laws in Reno were shortened to a scant six weeks. According to tradition, after receiving their final dissolution of marriage decree, which was also called “being Reno-vated”, newly-single female divorcees would leave the courthouse and immediately head one block north to the Virginia Street Bridge to toss their wedding rings into the Truckee River as a symbol of celebrating their new-found freedom.
In The Misfits, immediately after being granted a divorce at the Washoe County Courthouse, Roslyn Taber (aka Marilyn Monroe) and her friend Isabelle Steers (aka Thelma Ritter) head to the Virginia Street Bridge where Isabelle tries to convince Roslyn to toss her ring into the Truckee River by saying, “If you throw in your ring, you’ll never get another divorce.” Contrary to what has been reported on countless tourism websites and in numerous filming location books, Roslyn does not in fact throw her ring into the river, but instead walks off to grab a drink at the supposed Harrahs Club (filming actually took place at the now-defunct Mapes Hotel Casino) with the band still safely encircling her finger. In the scene, Marilyn and Thelma stood on the southwest corner of the Virginia Street Bridge, facing the Sierra Street Bridge, which is pictured in the background of the above screen captures.
That same view is pictured above.
It is widely debated as to how the ring-tossing tradition began and some historians even believe the whole thing was quite simply a publicity stunt dreamed up by Reno officials hoping to lure divorce-seekers – and their money – into the city. The first known account of the Virginia Street Bridge ring-fling was depicted in a 1927 informational pamphlet titled “Reno! It Won’t Be Long Now: Ninety Days and Freedom”. The custom became more widely known when Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr., who came to the Silver State in 1927 in order to obtain a divorce, penned his 1929 premiere novel Reno, in which one of his main characters throws his wedding band into the Truckee River. In October of 1930, a movie based on Vanderbilt’s book was released and the rest, as they say, is history. And while numerous historians were apt to dismiss the tradition as myth, the ring-toss lore became inexorably woven into the pages of Reno’s history and in 1976, three fortune-seeking citizens who were searching for coins in the Truckee River wound up excavating more than 400 wedding bands from the area directly underneath the Virginia Street Bridge, forever quieting the legend’s many naysayers.
No matter how the tradition began, whether a legitimate custom dreamed up by newly-minted divorcees or a marketing tool created by city officials, the Virginia Street Bridge is an ABSOLUTELY gorgeous place to visit and I cannot more highly recommend stalking it! The structure that stands today was originally built in 1905 by San-Francisco-area architect John B. Leonard. Amazingly enough, the span was actually the fifth to be constructed in that particular spot linking Virginia Street above the Truckee River. The first bridge was engineered in 1860 by a man named Charles W. Fuller and was known, appropriately, as “Fuller’s Crossing”. The wooden and log construction could not withstand the strength of the Truckee, though, and was sadly washed away in a flood in 1861. Four replacements followed, the last of which is the Beaux-Arts-style structure pictured above.
As you can see above, the area surrounding the Virginia Street Bridge, which includes a “River Walk”, a public park, flowing waterfalls, and outdoor restaurants, is truly breathtaking and my dad absolutely fell in love with the place. While there, he kept enthusing, “I cannot believe I never would have known this area existed if not for you and your stalking!” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – stalking is the VERY best way to discover off-the-beaten-path, not-in-a-guidebook type spots. So I guess I should be saying, “Thank you, Marilyn!” for this one!
While there, I just had to make my grandma – who at 86 years old was still up for walking miles around Downtown Reno to do some Misfits stalking with me – pose for a pic. The woman absolutely rocks my world and I can only hope that I am in half as good a shape as she is when I enter my golden years! I love you, Grandma!
Until next time, Happy Stalking!
Stalk It: The Virginia Street Bridge spans the Truckee River on South Virginia Street, in between Island Avenue and Truckee River Lane, in Downtown Reno, Nevada. In The Misfits, Marilyn Monroe and Thelma Ritter stood at the southwest corner of the bridge, near where Island Avenue meets South Virginia Street, in the area depicted with a pink circle in the above aerial view.