A strange and eerie row of teddy bears, clowns dolls, beanie babies, and stuffed Disney characters hang along the timbers of this rotating truss bridge, nailed up by their bunny ears and stuffed paws a few feet above the St. Louis River at Duluth-Superior Harbor.
Some of the items appear brand new, while others are matted, decomposing, faceless, bursting at the seams, faded and discolored from years in the sun. Spider webs have been spun and re-spun between their legs and moss has grown up over their glass eyes. All that remains of some are limp, detached ears, arms, and heads.
Accessible only by watercraft, this bizarre, unsettling display was first created by Rick McDonald, who operated the bridge between Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin for many years from the now-deteriorating building that sits just above it.
McDonald began purchasing secondhand stuffed animals and fastening them to the wooden beams that supported the bridge. Even the other operators were not certain why he began this odd collection, though it was assumed it was for the entertainment of himself and the boaters that passed by. Since McDonald’s retirement and later his passing in 2006, boaters have continued to make their own additions to the eerie assembly, making it an ever-changing exhibition.
Many of these secondhand toys must bear untold stories from Christmas mornings and baby cribs and childrens’ playtimes, making them all the more forlorn and mysterious. They’ll dangle there, a few feet above the murky river, rotting and molding and keeping one another and passing boaters company until they’ve decayed too much for their rusted nails to hold them up and they’re finally swallowed up by the silty estuary.