Four fascinating things happened in 1955, and one of them was good.
The happy event that year was the opening of the Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River, about 15 miles north of the George Washington.
If you are going to Connecticut, by the way, avoid the GW, where traffic can be a problem even when Gov. Chris Christie's flunkies are not making a mess of it on purpose. I always prefer the beautiful cantilever Tappan Zee.
When the Tappan Zee was built, however, it was designed to last only 50 years, so we're a little overdue for a new bridge, which is already under construction at a cost of $3.9 billion.
The bad news from 1955 included two hurricanes that drenched Pennsylvania, causing widespread flooding and several deaths. That resulted in the construction of a flood-control dam on the Lehigh River at the Carbon-Luzerne county line.
Also in 1955, the openly racist and McCarthyism-imbued congressman Francis E. Walter of Easton became chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee, one of the most un-American and oppressive bodies in the nation's history.
Another 1955 event was the appearance before HUAC of famed folk singer and activist Pete Seeger, who died on Jan. 27 at the age of 94. (Be patient; all four of these things are interrelated, sort of.)
I once met Seeger at a concert and anti-nuclear-power rally in Harrisburg on the first anniversary of the accident at Three Mile Island. I must admit I paid little attention to him; I was preoccupied with another performer at the concert, Linda Ronstadt. That, however, was only because I was following the directives of my employer at the time, The Associated Press.
Another AP reporter in those days was Tom Baldwin, who now lives in Upper Black Eddy, Bucks County, and it was he who got me going on this latest kick.
Regarding the Tappan Zee situation, Baldwin said we should "do the right thing and name the new span 'The Pete Seeger Bridge.'" He pointed out that Seeger lived nearby and was a key figure in a successful crusade to clean up the Hudson River. He also predicted there will be a "firestorm" of opposition to the proposal because of Seeger's "errant politics" of decades ago.
That, for many of us, is overshadowed by Seeger's contributions. "Like how can a skinny guy with a banjo have such an impact 70 years later?" Baldwin asked.
Judith Enck, a top U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official, was quoted in one news story as saying, "The Hudson River is cleaner today because of the incredible work of Pete Seeger." No one in government would have dared praise Seeger that way during the height of McCarthyism, because he had embraced communism before repudiating it in the late 1940s.
When Seeger was called before HUAC in 1955, as were many in entertainment, he refused to hide behind his Fifth Amendment rights, as he could have done. Also, however, he refused HUAC demands that he rat out any other entertainers who had leftist, pacifist or pro-civil rights leanings, or that he disclose his religious beliefs.
So Seeger was prosecuted for contempt of Congress and sentenced to prison, but that was overturned. He was blacklisted, however, which meant it was almost impossible to find work in entertainment.
When the Smothers Brothers tried to put Seeger on their television show in 1967, CBS censored him off the air because of his anti-war views. With a changing national mood, however, he returned to that show in 1968 and his popularity exploded. Meanwhile, Seeger wrote or co-wrote songs like "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" and "Turn, Turn, Turn." He was singularly responsible for the popularity of "We Shall Overcome" in the civil rights crusades.
Now let us turn to the flooding of 1955, which led to the construction of the Bear Creek Dam on the Lehigh.
In 1963, as it was becoming clear just how evil HUAC and those associated with it were, congressman Walter's political allies rammed through a proposal to rename it. It is now the Francis E. Walter Dam, a hideous blot on the reputation of the nation, of Pennsylvania, and especially of the watershed that drains into the Lehigh River.
I have assailed the name of that dam on a number of occasions. How can a nation that purports to believe in freedom and constitutional principles have a dam named after a monster like Walter, who used his power to subvert every genuine principle this nation ever stood for?
I always was strongly opposed to communism, even when I was very young, but if I had to choose between Walter and a rabid communist — even one who never repudiated that dogma as Seeger did — I'd prefer the commie by a wide margin.
There are some who already have come out in opposition to the Pete Seeger Bridge name, not because they harbor vestiges of McCarthyism, but because they think it's not fitting to name an eight-lane traffic monstrosity for an environmentalist who preferred to travel by sloop.
That's understandable, but I'd love to see something that calls attention to a champion of causes that reflect what's truly good about America — as opposed to a Lehigh River dam named for someone who represented a truly vile segment of our history.
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays