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Curse of the Three Sisters

There are three tiny islands in the Potomac River slightly upstream from Georgetown, called the Three Sisters. You can see them from the Key Bridge. They’re cursed.

The story goes something like this:

Prior to European contact, the Potomac River divided the territories of the Powhatan and Susquehannock nations. The Powhatans lived south of the river in what is now Virginia, while the Susquehannocks lived north of it in what is now Maryland. The two groups did not get along.

Late one night, three Powhatan sisters decided to sneak across into Susquhannock territory in order to avenge the deaths of their betrothed husbands-to-be, who had been killed in a battle earlier that day. As the three Powhatan sisters crossed the Potomac River in a canoe, monstrously strong wind and water currents swept down the river, causing the river to become uncrossable, and eventually drowning the girls. As they drowned they uttered a curse, that if they could not cross the river at that location, no one else ever would. The spot where the sisters drowned was hit by a fierce lighting storm, and then the three islands rose up from the river bottom to their present location.

Since that time, nobody has had any luck crossing the river near the Three Sisters.

  • 1791: L’Enfant proposes a bridge at Three Sisters as part of his grand plan for Washington. Most of the plan goes forward, but not the bridge. L’Enfant himself dies bitter and broke.
  • 1826: Georgetown city officials petition Congress to build a Three Sisters bridge in order to compete with the Chain Bridge further upriver. The petition is ignored.
  • 1857: Plans are submitted to Congress for a suspension bridge at the Three Sisters. Before construction begins the Civil War breaks out, and the idea is abandoned.
  • 1969: Construction begins for a Three Sisters bridge as part of the Eisenhower Interstate Highway system. The new bridge is just a steel skeleton in 1972 when a giant storm approaches the Potomac, with monstrously strong wind and water currents, and fierce lightning. The storm is much like the one that drowned the three Powhatan sisters centuries earlier. When the storm subsides, the framework for the new bridge is gone, disappeared into the river depths. By then, local interests opposed to the bridge all along won their battle, and a new bridge wasn’t built.

One curse, four complete failures. You decide.

For a more complete narrative of the curse story, read its chapter in It Happened In Washington, DC.

March 16th, 2010 | Permalink
Tags: events, fun, history, roads/cars, transportation



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