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A Blast From The Past: View from the top

Vivian Shirley made headlines atop the Tacony Palmyra Bridge in 1929. (The Free Library of Philadelphia/Special to The Sun)

Editor’s note: This is a new column about Palmyra nostalgia by local Will Valentino.

Special to The Sun

Before the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge opened in 1929, the “Green lady of Palmyra” as I like to call her, received a unique visitor. Let me introduce you to Vivian Shirley, a flapper in high heels wanting to make a headline.

According to the Free Library of Philadelphia, Vivian Shirley was born Elizabeth Malcolm in 1898, in Lynchburg, Virginia. Shirley was employed as a “stunt reporter” by Philadelphia’s Evening Public Ledger, from the late-1920s until 1933, so climbing the bridge for a view from the top was probably one of her first forays into the extreme. She was well educated, and she held degrees from Longwood University (Farmville, Virginia) and the University of South Carolina, allowing her to enjoy the fruits of her labor as a writer and journalist which also included teaching and publishing her own poetry.

Her popularity soared when she was willing to try anything to make a story interesting, and this included climbing the newly minted steel girders of the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge high and the Delaware River while it was still under construction. The story created quite a sensation when a series of photos showing Shirley high atop the bridge appeared in the Evening Public Ledger.

Of course every dog has its day and in 1932, Shirley’s stunts were curtailed by the Ledger, due to legal concerns that they endangered the paper’s insurance, let alone her own life as a reporter. Shortly thereafter, in 1933, she married newspaper man Harry Nason, who eventually became editor for the New York Post.  

Shirley died in 1987, at the age of 89.

As for The Tacony-Palmyra Bridge, the green lady still stands and will celebrate her 100th anniversary in 2029. 

Just another Blast from the Past courtesy of local historian, Will Valentino. Watch for another Blast next week

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