Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on its 50th anniversary celebration in 1987, a firsthand account

By John Waters

On May 24, 1987, in celebration of its 50th anniversary, the Golden Gate Bridge was closed to vehicles; pedestrians were encouraged to walk across the bridge from both directions, towards San Francisco and Marin.

Officials had estimated 75,000 people would meet mid-section and continue their walk to the opposite side of the bridge. An estimated 800,000 people showed up. When a mass of humanity from Marin and San Francisco met, mid-span, pedestrian gridlock occurred. An estimated 300,000 people were stalled on the bridge. So much weight was on the suspension bridge that the span lost its characteristic arch. The Golden Gate Bridge sagged under the weight of this mass of humanity.

My uncle Bob Wrasman of Los Altos, California was one of the 300,000 people on the sagging Golden Gate Bridge on that May morning. Here is his story:

My friend Joan Winkler, her son and his girlfriend, had left Los Altos to arrive for the scheduled 6 am opening of the bridge. We were planning on catching busses that were set up to shuttle people to the bridge. The lines for the busses were already about a half a mile long so we decided to drive to the Presidio and walk the two miles to the bridge.

When we arrived at the bridge, nobody was paying attention to the barricades set up and people were already out on the middle of the bridge. When we got out there, it was a big celebration, Dianne Feinstein [then-mayor of San Francisco] was there throwing wreaths, there was a band playing — it was great.

It was beautiful, the sun was rising and after a half hour we turned around [to walk back to the city] and it was totally packed. They just kept coming and coming. [From] the Marin side they kept coming, too. Thank God it was early in the morning and there was no alcohol. I can’t think of any confrontations. There were maybe 300,000 people on the bridge. You could move maybe four or five feet in ten minutes.

I don’t know how they could have managed things differently. It was a big party; there were all kinds of costumes.

It was good stuff going on. In this total mob of things, when everyone was just at a standstill and everyone was just great. One gal gets up and yells “Taxi!” The place went hysterical…300,000 people weighed more than automobiles, and the bridge sagged from the tremendous weight. It took us about three hours to walk the half mile to get off the bridge.

 

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