If you heard that a bridge was haunted by the ghosts of slaves who built it or the people buried in the pillars, and it has a school of blood-drinking mermaids (some school!) living underneath it, would you cross it? That’s the dilemma facing travelers in St. Catherine, Jamaica, on the A1 highway who need to cross the Rio Cobre and the only choice is the Flat Bridge, which puts travelers at risk of angry ghosts and evil River Mummas (mermaids). The belief in this local lore is so strong, two recent car accidents which resulted in two deaths and numerous serious injuries are being blamed on mermaids. Time for a new bridge? It’s not that easy when it comes to the Flat Bridge when the Rio Cobre changes colors.
"Whenever time the river change its color and get dirty like now, that's when it dangerous, and that's usually when the mermaid is active. Some people come here in 2016 and walk up and down the river springing blood and after that, six people dead in a Vitara."
A local diver and fisherman told The Jamaica Star that two deaths in five days – a female passenger in a packed minibus and a woman driving alone – should be blamed on a bloodthirsty mermaid … and not on the fact that this ancient bridge over the Bog Walk Gorge has no guardrails. The name Bog Walk is derived from the Spanish words Boca de Agua (water's mouth). Europeans discovered it in the 1660s, the first road was cut through in 1770, and the first single lane Flat Bridge was built of wood around the same time. The sixteen plantations in the Bog Walk area were obligated to send African slaves to do the dangerous and deadly work – hence the many ghosts believed to haunt it. Between 1881 and 1915, the wooden supports washed away and were replaced with iron girders. Yes, the Flat Bridge has had guardrails, both metal and wooden, but floods wash them away floor – another curse the locals blame on the River Mummas.
One more slave legend – it’s said there is a gold table in the water under Flat Bridge that surfaces on the hottest days at noon. Not surprisingly, a local plantation owner sent 24 bulls and 6 slaves into the Rio Cobre to retrieve it and all drowned – yes, they now believe the mermaids guard it.
“It is said that trying to capture the River Mistress will either leave you gravely ill or dead. The fish in her fresh waters are her children and should not be caught as suffering will be a consequence for such an action and to catch her will cause the Rio Cobre to dry up. She resides in the waterways acting as protector of the water and the animals that live in it. It is also said that the River Mistress only shows her face when the river turns lizard-green. Some stories have her pulling fated cars overboard Flat Bridge, others have her rescuing these same passengers from imminent death.”
A site on Caribbean folklore refers to one River Mistress, but many believe there are more. Local “Lady G” told the Jamaica Star of a fisherman who found a giant scale and went back for the fish, only to be found drowned “with a string of fish tied to his shorts."
Why not dam the river and catch the mermaids? It may be because they also have a good side.
“Legend has it that on moonlit nights, one may be lucky to catch sight of her as she sits on a boulder and combs her hair with a golden comb. In other areas of the island, it is said that for one night every year, the mermaid leaves her underwater home to visit the surface. If frightened while combing her hair, she would dive into the water leaving her comb behind. It is believed that anyone who finds it will become rich. Wanting the comb to be returned, the mermaid would approach the finder in a dream and direct them to treasure underwater. This treasure, according to folklore, is said to be gold that was left by pirates who had forgotten the hiding place.”
Who thinks the Jamaican government would share the mermaid’s gold with the locals? They’d rather find the comb and keep it for themselves. Skeptics say the aptly-named guardrail-less, one-lane Flat Bridge is just plain dangerous without any help from River Mummas – accidents are frequent and sometimes intentional … the woman who died recently was believed to have taken her own life.
Could the local government be feeding the mermaid legend to avoid fixing the Flat Bridge or stopping pollution from changing the color of the Rio Cobre? You’ve been watching too much cable news!