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LeBARON: That very scary day when the bridge began to sway

  • As thousands of people jam the deck of the Golden Gate Bridge during Sunday morning's bridge walk, one person walks across the span 220 feet above the San Francisco Bay, Ca., May 24, 1987. An estimated 350,000 people turned out for the bridge walk, which kicked off the Golden Gate Bridge 50th anniversary celebration. (AP Photo/Doug Atkins)

There are all kinds of ways to think about the Golden Gate Bridge on this 75th anniversary — its iconic status; its beauty and grace; its symbolism for engineering marvels and/or political triumphs.

The bridge can be seen as an economic miracle of the Great Depression; as a game-changer for growth north of the San Francisco Bay; even, perhaps, as Chrysopylae, which is Greek for Golden Gate, the name bestowed on the Bay's opening by the high-fallutin' John C. Fremont in 1848. (He said he named it after the harbor at ancient Byzantium, which was known as the Golden Horn.)

I used to think some those thoughts upon crossing in my younger days. But not anymore. Not for the past 25 years.

Golden Gate Bridge, 1937-2012

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Now, when The Bridge looms large in the frame of the Waldo Tunnel, I think about the Bridgewalk, when I — along with 500,000 or 800,000 others depending on who you ask — were out there on the occasion of the 50th anniversary.

I think about how nervous I was then and how terrified I would have been if I had known what I know now.

Which is: All of us out there on that span were teetering on the brink of a colossal disaster.

We began from the Marin side, a band of middle-aged merrymakers — too young to remember the opening day, old enough to appreciate that the 50th anniversary was a historic occasion — strolling along in the soft May morning.

I remember writing about the new moon hanging over the East Bay hills, comparing it in a poetic spasm with the new moon in "Sir Patrick Spens," an old Scottish ballad, "that holds the old moon in her arm."

We laughed and sang as we headed toward San Francisco. With hundred of others, we had boarded Golden Gate Transit buses in Santa Rosa at 3 a.m., having stashed a couple of cars at the Larkspur Ferry Terminal to take us home.


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