Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Travel - 75th Anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge

View of the Golden Gate Bridge in 2010.
   Residents of San Francisco will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the completion of the Golden Gate Bridge. Various events have already taken place in 2012, but there is one big part that will be omitted from the May ceremony. There won't be a bridge walk on the historic span on the special day. I haven't seen any reason, but I have my own ideas why officials decided to forgo the walk.
   The walk twenty-five years ago was more about standing still, people packed together like sardines. Once on the bridge you couldn't move. Officials underestimated the number of people who would attend. They stated a figure of possibly 80,000. Instead, 800,000 showed up in the area and 300,000 revelers were crammed onto the bridge. I don't think they want to repeat that mistake. But, all that's stated on the itinerary of events is 'No bridge walk this year.' Even with the large crowds and tight conditions I was still glad to have been part of the crazy festivity.
   In a brief history note, workers at The Bethlehem Steel Corporation, with Pottstown home to one of the plants, fabricated the steel. The work on the bridge began in January of 1933 and was completed four years later. The 'Pedestrian Day' was held on May 27, 1937 and the bridge was open to vehicles the next day. And being that the steel was fabricated in Pottstown, an idea was born to send the award winning Pottstown High School band as part of the celebration.

The Pottstown High School band on the Golden Gate in 1987.
   I attended the hoopla on the 50th anniversary bridge walk in May of 1987, sent by The Mercury to photograph the band as they marched and played their music. The musicians were guests of honor along with band director Charles Dressler in the City by the Bay. Everywhere they went, former area residents came out to greet them. They visited various parts of the city and were treated to a highlight dinner and a lion dance in Chinatown. They were quite the celebrities.
   The next day the band was up early and on buses headed to the Golden Gate Bridge to perform as part of the anniversary bridge walk. The band began to play and marched along the ramp onto the bridge. People attending moved to the side and cheered as the musicians passed by. The band was in top form as they continued along until they hit the bottleneck near the first tower. Walkers were crowding in from the other end of the span.  
A huge crowd gathered on the bridge in 1987.
   The band was stuck on the bridge with no where to go as thousands continued to jam their way onto the structure behind them. The group was cutoff and forced to stand together holding heavy instruments as the crowd pressed in. There was no ceremony at the podium setup at the middle of the span as was originally planned.  The only voice we heard over loud speakers stated 'The bridge walk is over, please clear the bridge!'
   That was it. The walk was over. After a while the sea of humanity started to move and the musicians made their way safety back to the buses. The tired band relaxed for a while, regrouped and played on. They headed to Chrissy Field along the San Francisco Bay and performed several numbers for crowds in the park.
   Shortly after that I headed to the Associated Press downtown office and developed film and transmitted several photos to The Mercury before the east coast deadline.
   The following day the group traveled by bus, this time making an easy crossing of the Golden Gate. They headed into the wine country for another anniversary parade. More accolades for the teenagers as they concluded their last performance in style.  The trip ended on a high note and was a successful adventure for the students.
Deb and me at the bridge in 2010.
   It took me twenty three years to return to San Francisco, this time taking my wife Deb with me. It brought back all those memories. I really enjoy San Francisco, with so much to experience. On the day we were spending at Fisherman's Wharf, we decided to make the five mile trek along the bay to the Golden Gate Bridge. The weather was perfect, fog was shrouding the tops of the bridge towers.      
   We took our time enjoying the sites and crowd as we walked. Young adults were everywhere, playing volleyball, riding bikes and jogging. I saw a group of unicycle enthusiasts peddling along. Out in the bay was the distinctive Alcatraz Prison. We continued through the Presidio and up the steep hill onto the Golden Gate Bridge.
   There were other tourists walking and posing for pictures. We asked a bicyclist to shoot our photo for posterity. I returned the favor snapping one for him.
   Deb and I continued on and stopped near the first tower. This was as far as I needed to go. Looking at the traffic lanes where I stood with the band over two decades before, brought out a smile as I replayed the events of that day in 1987. I marveled at the 'Made in America' icon and touched parts of the steel proudly knowing that it came from Pottstown.

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