If you have ever visited Pittsburgh, one of the landmark sights is this unique bridge that crosses over Ross Street (Near Forbes Avenue). It is called the "Bridge of Sighs." At one time it was a bridge that went from the Allegheny County Courthouse to the Allegheny County Jail (Pittsburgh Prison). It was called the Bridge of Sighs because it would be the last glimpse of freedom before a convicted person who was just found guilty at the courthouse was then escorted to the confines of the Pittsburgh jail. As the convict took his final walk to jail, he was able to see freedom through the windows one last time. As they peered through the small windows of the bridge many would sigh as they contemplated their fate for the duration of their prison sentence in the dark confines of the Jail.
The bridge in Pittsburgh was constructed in 1888 and was designed from a similar bridge in Venice, Italy where the bridge actually went over water that was below in the city streets. The bridge in Venice was called Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs). It was constructed in 1600 and served the same purpose as the bridge in Pittsburgh taking prisoners from the courthouse to the prison.
This Bridge of Sighs has a very interesting historical event associated with it. The story is told in the movie "Mrs. Soffel" that featured Diane Keaton, Mel Gibson and Edward Herrmann. Some outside scenes were filmed on sight in Pittsburgh in 1984. It was based on the true story of Kate Soffel (Keaton) who was married to the warden Peter Soffel (Herrmann). Their residence was on one side of the bridge and the jail was on the other side of the bridge. In an attempt to help reform prisoners, Kate Soffel would make a habit of visiting prisoners in the jail in an effort to rehabilitate prisoners and to some extent evangelise them. The story unfolds where she eventually falls in love with one of two brothers Ed & Jack Biddle both of whom were found guilty on December 12, 1901. They were found guilty of the murder of a grocery keeper, Thomas Kahney on Mount Washington as well as a police detective Fitzgerald who sought to arrest them for their crime in April of 1901. While at the Allegheny County Jail, for over a month, they planned their escape which was documented in a diary kept by Ed Biddle (Gibson) who was possibly Soffel's "lover." The infatuated Mrs. Soffel smuggled in saws, tools and firearms that helped them escape. On January 29, 1902, they escaped and shooting a guard in the process. Mrs. Soffel went with the two brothers who were seeking to make their way north to Canada where they were citizens. They hid for several hours until darkness then made their way north via a trolley car and then a stolen sleigh the trio made their way north as a Pittsburgh posse pursued them through the snow swept Pennsylvania hills & farm country. The two brothers met their fate when a posse tracked them down. A shoot out takes place and all three were severely wounded near Portersville, PA. The bodies of the brothers were riddled with bullets. Both brothers died, that evening hours after the shootout. Some believe they entered a suicide pact but this is debated and remains a mystery. Their accomplice, Mrs. Soffel recovered from her wounds and was later sentenced to 2 years in prison for her role in the escape plot. (She went a bridge too far!)
As one thinks about the Bridge of Sighs, it brings to mind some very important biblical principles. First, scripture teaches us that we will all be judged. Believers are technically not judged because Jesus has already taken our judgement on himself and paid our debt (John 5: 22-24). Thus we will be evaluated for our lives as believers. In 2 Corinthians 5: 9-10 Paul instructs us about this evaluation that is called the "Judgement Seat of Christ" also known as the Bema judgement. Here believers will be evaluated on the basis of what they have done with their lives in light of their status as Christ followers. Believers are not condemned, but they are all rewarded differently. It is important to remember as believers that good works are a result of our salvation, not a reason to gain salvation. In light of this, we seek to please Jesus in all we do. Is it your priority to please God in all that you do?
Second, we have a task to do while we are here as Christ followers! It is important for us to remember that we are here for a reason and one of the main reasons is to build redemptive bridges with those who are not yet Christ followers. Yes, we are here to deliver the good news of the gospel to those who are spiritually lost. Unbelievers face the judgement of Jesus, for it is He who will render judgement on all unbelievers (John 5: 25-27). Delivering this good news is a high calling and a wonderful privilege! We are not here to reform people from wayward behavior or bad choices, but we seek to see people respond to the gospel to become redeemed. Don't succumb to the false teaching of being focused on delivering a social gospel (which is very prevalent today). (1 Corinthians 1: 21-25 - We tell others about Christ and his wonderful work in our behalf!)
As you enter 2019, do not live a life of regret or sighs. Live your life with a specific sense of calling, intentionality, and purpose! Live in light of eternity and seek to please God in all you do! Also make good use of your time to build redemptive bridges with those who are not Christ followers. Don't build bridges based on false motives or foolhardiness. Remember, we are not here to reform people with moral character to become good citizens, but we want to see people redeemed by belief or trust in Christ alone for salvation. When that happens they will have a brand new citizenship in Heaven! This unique bridge in Pittsburgh should be a constant reminder of the fact that we should never live life with a sense of regret or a sigh....but a sense of a high calling, divine intentionality and an eternal purpose.
FYI - the top picture was taken in 1903 and the second picture (middle) was taken in 1895. Notice the cobblestone streets and the streetcar tracks! The bottom picture was taken in 2008. In the 1900's sometime after 1903, the street level was lowered to allow larger vehicles clearance under the bridge. The prison was moved from this location in 1995. The Allegheny County Jail was located on the side where the tower exists. Currently, the former Allegheny county Jail now houses the offices of the Allegheny County Family Division.