Thousands upon thousands of people hiked across the deck of the Golden Gate Bridge 32 years ago today to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the world’s most famous span. According to Associated Press, “An estimated 350,000 people turned out for the bridge walk” while a total of 800,000 people came to celebrate around the entrances to the bridge.
But this gala, intended to replicate the bridge walk that happened during its 1937 inauguration, was a disaster.
“An hour before the opening ceremonies began, officials realized they had a problem: Hundreds of people were lined up at bus stops, and tens of thousands were converging on both ends of the bridge on foot, skateboards, bicycles, wheelchairs and baby strollers,” notes a 1987 article in the New York Times. “More buses were dispatched, but that only made the crowds at the bridge thicker. The walkers began pushing their way onto the bridge 30 minutes before the scheduled start of the ceremonies, which were mostly forgotten. The walkers met at the middle, forming a shoulder-to-shoulder gridlock.”
At the midspan point, the weight of the crowd flattened out the arch in the bridge deck. Gary Giacomini, president of the bridge district board at that time, said it was the greatest load the bridge had in its 50-year life.
And that’s not all.
“Planned events were scuttled, porta-potties overflowed, chaos reigned, and chilling before-and-after images showed up later, proving that the normally arched road had flattened under the weight of the pedestrians packed together like sardines,” reported SFGate in 2010. “If that wasn’t bad enough, there was a small fundraising scandal in the aftermath. Among other blunders, organizers of the celebration paid three companies more than $50,000 to raise funds, and got absolutely nothing in return.”
The bridge has closed to vehicular traffic only eight times in history: Thrice for wind hazards, twice for anniversary galas (in 1987 and 2012), twice again for visiting dignitaries U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and President of France Charles de Gaulle; and once for construction.
The Golden Gate Bridge’s birthdate is Monday, May 27. This year, the International Orange hunk of metal will celebrate 82 years of connecting people between San Francisco to Marin County.
Another celebratory bridge walk is not planned for this—or any other—year’s anniversary.