Question 1 (ABM) - The Municipal Bridge vision
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The following are a series of questions and answers between one of our editors (referred to as BTS) and an anonymous Branham minister (referred to as ABM). This series of Q&A relates to William Branham's prophetic ministry. The full text of this question and its answer is below.
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Question 1 - The Municipal Bridge vision
As discussed, the following is my first question. I will send separate emails for each question to avoid a lengthy email chain, although I may include follow up questions in the same chain.
Question #1 - The Municipal Bridge vision
William Branham told of a vision he had as a boy of the construction of a bridge and of its supernatural fulfillment. This story was used to bolster his claim to be a prophet.
- I was playing marbles out with my little brothers, out in the front yard. And all at once I had a strange feeling come on me. And I stopped and set down aside of a tree. And we were right up on the bank from the Ohio River. And I looked down towards Jeffersonville, and I seen a bridge rise up and go across that, the river, span the river. And I seen sixteen men (I counted them) that dropped off of there and lost their lives on that bridge. I run in real quick and told my mother, and she thought I went to sleep. But they kept it in mind, and twenty-two years from then the Municipal Bridge now (that many of you cross when you cross there) crossed the river at the same place, and sixteen men lost their life building that bridge across the river. It's never failed to be perfectly true. (My Life Story, Los Angeles, April 19, 1959)
From his various retellings of the vision, we can draw the following conclusions about the vision and its fulfillment:
- The vision occurred while playing marbles with one or more of his younger brothers when William Branham was a young boy.
- William Branham saw the Municipal Bridge being built across the Ohio River between Jeffersonville and Louisville. He clearly identifies it was this specific bridge.
- William Branham counted 16 men falling to their deaths from the bridge. He indicated they all drowned.
- He saw a sign or heard someone say 22 years.
- He told his mother about it and she wrote it down.
- Twenty-two years later the municipal bridge was erected and 16 men fell to their deaths and drowned during the construction process just exactly as the Lord had shown William Branham in his vision.
However, the only evidence that anyone died during the construction of the municipality bridge is two men who lost their lives in separate incidents:
- On Wednesday, June 19, 1929, Richard Pilton died after being hit in the temple with an iron crank. He did not drown.
- On September 10, 1929. Lloyd McEwen lost his footing and fell, landing on a barge below the bridge. He did not drown, but rather, died from the injuries caused by his fall.
These two deaths were reported on the front page of the Jeffersonville Evening News on June 19, 1929 and September 11, 1929 respectively.
The final engineering report on the bridge was delivered by Ralph Modjeski and Frank Masters to the Louisville Bridge Commission in 1930. The report discussed the construction of the bridge and a variety of issues encountered during the construction. There are no mentions of collapsing cranes or spans, and no records of any major failures or catastrophic accidents. The statement of costs does not contain any additional unplanned costs that would be associated with a major accident or collapse. The specifications for the materials used in the bridge were very specific and required industry standard tests to be performed. The report includes the documented test results for these materials and there are no significant defects documented in the test results.
In a phone conversation with Pearry Green prior to his death, Pearry told me that William Branham stood underneath the Municipal bridge, and pointed out the exact section of the bridge that fell into the river. This is the reason that Pearry specifically points out on a video (from 32:04 to 35:14 at https://youtu.be/QxJsbVsOUBg ) the exact section of the bridge that William Branham told him fell into the river and which resulted in the deaths of the 16 men. The problem is that a section of the bridge never fell into the river. The bridge was completed on time and on budget.
I also tried to confirm the facts relating to the fulfillment of the vision with George Smith, William Branham’s son-in-law. He admitted to me in a private telephone conversation that 16 men did not die during the construction of the municipal bridge. When I asked how he could explain this, his only response was, “I can’t explain it, but I still believe."
William Branham stated that this was a prophecy and that his prophecies had never failed. But the evidence points to the failure of this prophetic vision.
How can you claim that William Branham was a true prophet of God when this vision clearly failed?
Let me open by thanking you for being open to this dialogue. I will answer you truthfully and candidly.
I agree and accept your basic accounting of the facts. Records indicate only two men died during the construction of the bridge, not sixteen. Likewise, those in our fellowship who lived in Jeffersonville during that time also attest that sixteen men did not die during the construction. (Although their recollection of the exact number vary, all agree that the number given by Bro. Branham was not correct.) This knowledge is new to many people, but not new to Branham's followers who lived in the Jeffersonville area during the period. I took an opportunity to speak to two different church members today which had met Bro. Branham and attended the Tabernacle during the 1930s, which was before even I knew him. They agreed with the assessment of this "problem" which I will outline in my answer. I will preface my answer with this statement. The Word of God cannot fail, but the word of man can fail.
First, I want to offer an explanation whereby I hope you can plausibly see that Bro. Branham was not was not intentionally misleading people with this vision or his interpretation.
- A review of Branham's life story will reveal he was living in Arizona during the entire period of the construction of the municipal bridge. He is therefore unlikely to have any first hand knowledge of the construction of the bridge or of the accidents that happened when it was built, or direct knowledge of how many died. It is safe to assume that he relied on the accounts given to him by other people after his return to Indiana from Arizona to understand the number of people who died.
- There is a second bridge, built before Branham was born, in which an accident like what he described occurred during construction, leading to the deaths of a large number of builders. That would be the Big Four Bridge. It is plausible that he incorrectly believed these were the same incident. Bro. Branham made such mistakes at various points, confusing events.
- Many people who surrounded Bro. Branham in his later life were very reluctant to correct him or point out when he was mistaken. Some were aware when he was mistaken though, it was just rarely expressed publicly. He himself was not closed minded to such questions, but it could mean being ostracized by the Branham movement to ask such a question. Whereas most people would be called out for being mistaken, Bro. Branham never received such criticism by those around him and therefore continued to carry his mistaken knowledge of the construction of the municipal bridge throughout his life.
These three items are plausible, and are believed by me and the men I discussed this with today. Taking these thoughts into account along with the facts we can establish which show only two people died in the construction of the bridge, we can formulate a better question. Did his vision given by God fail, or did his interpretation fail? The implication of Bro. Branham's statements are that the vision is from God, but the interpretation may be his own. Throughout scripture, we can see examples of men who received a vision or other divine knowledge from God, but misinterpreted it or failed to interpret it. Peter, for example, failed to properly interpret the vision of the four footed beasts when it was first given. Daniel failed to interpret the knowledge given to him by Gabriel. Could it be that Bro. Branham just failed to interpret the vision properly? If so, this would not indicate a failure of his prophetic vision, and thus would not be grounds to reject him as a prophet.
If Bro. Branham confused the story of the Big Four Bridge accident with the Municipal Bridge construction, we can see how he would mistakenly interpret his vision as being fulfilled during the construction.
In my eyes, this is a case of a mistaken or failed interpretation, not a failed vision. Never does Bro. Branham mention God directly giving him an interpretation to the vision. He interpreted the fulfillment of the vision as happening during its construction. This is obviously mistaken, and is conceivably an interpretation he constructed himself based on incorrect information he believed about the construction of the bridge. Bro. Branham states what he saw in the vision. He never stated God directly giving him the interpretation of the vision, or why the vision itself should cause him to think the deaths were in the construction period only. Again, it is fair to assume, he considered the vision fulfilled in the construction based on his own incorrect knowledge of the construction - not because of what he saw in the vision.
Living in the Jeffersonville area, I am aware that the municipal bridge is one of the favorite suicide jump locations in the area. There was a suicide jumper on the bridge just last Thursday (October 18), and traffic was stopped forcing me to take an alternate route across the river. This generally happens multiple times a year. In 2014, two men jumped at the same time, but were rescued and arrested. A number of jumpers have died. A number of them are rescued. I have not researched to get the exact number, but certainly more than two people have died as a result of jumping from the bridge over the past century. If his vision is open ended, and not limited to the construction period, the issues around its fulfillment go away.
In regards to Perry Green, it can be proven multiple times that he gave false information to Bro. Branham to lead him to believe visions had been fulfilled. For example, Perry Green claimed to have seen reports of the 1933 baptism in far flung newspaper. Bro. Branham cited that as evidence multiple times that the news story was carried by the Associated Press. In fact, Pearry Green fabricated the claim. Green, along with other men in certain sects of the Branham movement have failed address these problems from the early days of the movement, but instead sought to cover them up with fabricated evidence. It is highly likely Green was not honest in his interview on this fact.
You are not the first one to discover this particular problem with the municipal bridge vision. Consider this: the people who lived in the Jeffersonville area during the time of Branham's early ministry knew full well that only two people died during the construction of the bridge. The majority of the people who are part of the Branham Tabernacle today were not part of the tabernacle congregation during Branham's early ministry. Almost all of the early members of the Branham Tabernacle left to be part of other message churches following the death of Bro. Branham. The Tabernacle was largely overrun by out-of-towners who flocked there as a result of the healing revival. Those people had no first hand knowledge of the events of Branham's early ministry, or of this municipal bridge construction. They accepted Bro. Branham's statements, and many other things, blindly. However, Bro. Branham was not purposefully misleading them, he truly believed it was fulfilled in construction.
The explanation I have provided to you in this email is not something I wrote here for your consumption, but this is the explanation that has been given for nearly fifty years in our sect of the movement.
In short: do people jump\fall off the bridge and die? Yes. Have a number jumped\fell off the bridge since its construction? Yes. Could that number be 16? Probably more than that. For me and many believers who look critically at these things, this explanation I have given is accepted as an adequate "excuse" for the apparent failure. Sects of the movement who do not accept Bro. Branham as being fallible find this explanation unpalatable. I do not expect this to convince you, but I hope you at least find it plausible. There is a way to view this vision without having to reject Bro. Branham's prophet gift as faulty.
This explanation is ultimately an indictment of men like Pearry Green who refused to be honest with Bro. Branham and misled him into believing things that were incorrect.