This Memorial Day weekend was the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Seems like the celebration was a ho-hum affair as the fog kept away for the fireworks show that was shot off the bridge. If you remember the 50th anniversary from 25 years ago, where 300,000 people walked across the bridge on foot at the same time, the bridge flattened out from the overwhelming weight.
Picture this: Hundreds of thousands of people are crammed shoulder to shoulder on the Golden Gate Bridge when suddenly the bridge’s gentle arch begins to flatten out. A metal groan then echoes across San Francisco Bay as the majestic towers begin tilting toward each other.
As the towers hit their breaking point, the 3-foot-thick main suspension cables slacken and the roadway splits open, dropping waves of pedestrians more than 200 feet to their deaths.
That almost happened 25 years ago today, at least according to urban legend.
On May 24, 1987, 300,000 people were stuck in human gridlock for hours while getting a rare chance to cross the 1.7-mile bridge en masse on foot to celebrate the bridge’s golden anniversary. Officials quickly closed the bridge, so a half-million other people waiting to cross never got the chance. Still, the enormous, unprecedented weight caused the middle of the bridge to sag 7 feet.
Engineers were kicking themselves that day for not anticipating this historic event and putting sensors on the bridge to measure the flattening out effect. The current generation of engineers have a hard enough time maintaining the bridge throughout the years.
As my father liked to tell me when I was growing up, the Golden Gate Bridge could never be built today. A worker died for every one-million-dollar spent was the norm back in the 1930’s. Although today’s safety and environmental laws could prevent a worker’s death, a barrage of lawsuits that could delay a project indefinitely could come about before the project even gets off the drawing board. The California high speed rail is a good example of that.
What the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge means today is that America has become a nation of small ideas, where the big ideas like a building a bridge across the treacherous Golden State Strait is a monument to our past.