By Portfolio Editor Roz Hamlett
The Outerbridge Crossing opened to great fanfare 88 years ago this week. Unlike its busy counterparts – the George Washington, Goethals and Bayonne bridges – not much exciting has occurred at the Outerbridge in recent years.
That is, until yesterday when an itinerant philosopher, Tod “Doc” Mishler, 80, with his horses Chief Spirit and Ruby in tow, created a media stir by saddling up to cross the span, without alerting police beforehand they were coming, and without using a customary horse trailer. Such foresight on Doc’s part would have allowed the PAPD to arrange the safest crossing possible. Still, Port Authority police escorted the threesome across the bridge without incident, albeit at a slowed pace.
Doc, a former philosophy professor at Western Michigan University, has been on a mission since 2002, when he sold everything he owned and decided to ride horseback across the country to raise awareness about the plight of hungry children. He was even invited to address Congress during the George W. Bush administration. Yesterday, he was en route to a meeting of the Federation of Black Cowboys in Brooklyn.
Following this week’s trip across the Arthur Kill, Doc and his equine friends were issued summonses by PAPD to appear in court on two separate charges: unlawful trespassing and impeding traffic, according to the PAPD. The legal status of Doc’s companions was less clear. During the PAPD interrogation following the incident, neither Chief Spirit nor Ruby made any comment (that was intelligible to the human ear).
For those who may have thought Doc should have gotten off with a warning, consider that the PAPD’s primary responsibility is safeguarding the traveling public, whether by vehicle or on horseback. It’s not hard to imagine what might have occurred had a car backfired and spooked Ruby or Chief Spirit. Two skittish horses galloping eastbound down the roadway may not have ended so well. It could have caused drivers to lose control, and people could have been injured, or worse.
This would appear to be the first time in modern history that quadrupeds have used a Port Authority bridge facility to cross the Arthur Kill, which connects Perth Amboy, N.J. to Tottenville, Staten Island, although in 1931, a man driving a horse named “Rubio” and buggy crossed the Hudson River on the GWB, during opening day festivities.