Bridge 'Troll' Quitting

July 21, 1995|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

The only working troll in Annapolis is resigning.

Annette "Annie" Bellinger, who has tended the Weems Creek Bridge from a shack under the span for the past 12 years, has decided to head for higher ground. It wasn't the water snakes, hungry rats or occasional thieves that chased her out, she said, but the hours and occasional squabbles with neighbors who say she trespasses on their property to get to her shack.

"I want a break," said the 73-year-old great-grandmother who was nicknamed "the troll lady" by neighbors who spotted her under the bridge.

Six months a year, from May 1 to Nov. 1, 12 hours a day, the Annapolis woman has been there. Every time a boater needed to get by, she climbed up the bank, pushed buttons and pulled a lever to make the bridge's center swing span pivot open.

This fall, the State Highway Administration will tear down the historic bridge, built in 1929, and replace it with a state-of-the-art span. The new bridge will share the unusual swivel design, but its operators will run the controls from a modern tower above the roadway.

Maryland has 16 other movable bridges with bridge tenders, but few have the local fame of Ms. Bellinger.

Brian Cronyn, who lives nearby, was so fascinated by her that he wrote a murder mystery and made her the central character. But the retired Navy captain had to rewrite the as-yet-unpublished tome because he killed off Ms. Bellinger too soon. "The book got really boring after that," he said.

Residents of the neighborhood are throwing a party for Ms. Bellinger on July 31, her last day under the bridge. But she isn't too sentimental about the demise of the old bridge or her impending departure.

The native of Waterbury, Conn., is used to moving. She has jumped from town to town along the East Coast in an assortment of jobs from secretary to bartender to a three-year stint as a mermaid in a traveling carnival.

She came to Maryland in 1979, to help care for a daughter-in-law doctors suspected had cancerous tumors in her feet. The bumps turned out to be planters warts, but by that time, Ms. Bellinger had decided to stay.

When she heard highway officials were looking for someone to tend the Weems Creek Bridge, Ms. Bellinger, who operated all kinds of movable bridges through the Florida Keys and along the St. Lucie Canal near Lake Okeechobee in the 1980s, jumped into action. She beat out 13 people for the job.

Despite her experience, Weems Creek has made the biggest impression on her, she said. She remembers watching a man propose to his girlfriend from a bridge platform. And she has given local kids "bridge rides" more times than she can count.

Not all the memories are jolly. Ms. Bellinger remembers getting stranded on the bridge several times when it broke down. Some days, not even one vessel approaches the bridge. Others, 25 boats will move through and she won't have her morning coffee until noon.

Nevertheless, she admits she'll miss the bridge. She spent years sipping coffee every morning with her friend, Rose Stell Adams, who lives by the creek. Neighbors would bring her flowers every spring when the bridge opened, and gifts when they saw her working long hours. One boater even gave her his old blue Ford Granada when he heard she had no car.

"I'm going to miss all the river people," she said. "I've been in their houses, I've watched their children grow up. Done it all."

As her last day of work approaches, Ms. Bellinger says the bridge already seems different. Most of the children have grown up and moved away. New neighbors have complained she and her friends are too loud and trespass on their property.

Once she leaves, Ms. Bellinger will have pieces of her creek life at home. She keeps photographs of the "river people" near her bed, by shots of her 14 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

She's even saved the picture of the two kids who mooned her when she told them to stop loitering on the bridge.

As for the future, Ms. Bellinger is willing to make only one prediction: her replacement probably won't be called the troll lady.

"I don't think there's anybody else like me," she says. "Not anymore."

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