During this lunchtime bike ride, as I was riding on the Rock Creek Park Trail near the southern end of the park, I rode over Rock Creek on a bridge usually referred to as the Devil’s Chair Footbridge. Located near Waterside Drive at a point approximately one-fifth of a mile northwest of where Q Street passes over the trail (MAP), with its eastern abutment just 30 feet from the southbound lanes of the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, the bridge’s name intrigued me. So later after I got back from my ride I researched it to find out more.
Also called the Lyon’s Mill Footbridge, Devils Chair is the most notable of a series of eight footbridges built in Rock Creek Park as Public Works Administration projects during the Great Depression. It was completed in 1934, with the concrete, rustic-style bridge constructed in the style advocated by Albert H. Good, an architectural consultant to the National Park Service, in his sourcebook Park Structures and Facilities which was published the following year. The bridge lies in the shadow of Georgetown’s Oak Hill Cemetery on its western side, with its eastern abutment built on a remnant of the original Lyon’s Mill which had been located on the eastern bank of the creek.
The term devil’s chair usually refers to a memorial sculpture common in this country during the nineteenth century, when cemeteries sometimes included carved chairs for the comfort of visitors. In this function, the object was known as a mourning chair. Some carved chairs, however, were not intended for use as anything but monuments. Anyway, once the original purpose of these chairs fell out of fashion, superstitions developed in association with the act of sitting in them. In a typical example, local young people dare one another to visit the cemetery, most often after dark, or on a certain night, such as Halloween. Variously, the stories suggest the person brave enough to sit in the chair at such a time may be punished for not showing due respect or rewarded for their courage.
So I assume the name Devil’s Chair is connected in some way to nearby Oak Hill Cemetery. But I have been unable to find one in the section of the cemetery near the footbridge. The rocky and hilly cemetery is both gothic and beautiful, but I have not found a devil’s chair anywhere in the cemetery. And despite researching it, I have been unable to find an explanation for the name. So the origins of the Devil’s Chair Footbridge’s name continues to be shrouded in mystery, at least for now. So if anyone knows of the story behind the name, please contact me. Otherwise, I may just have to go back there on Halloween next week, at midnight, and see if I can figure it out firsthand.