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Opening ceremonies for the Bay Bridge took longer than it takes to drive from Baltimore to Ocean City on a busy day

When Maryland’s Bay Bridge opened July 30, 1952, a motorist could have reached the Eastern Shore faster by driving around the Chesapeake Bay and stopping for lunch. The speeches droned on for hours.

“So prolonged was the job of dedicating the bridge that one state trooper was felled during the ceremonies — by the heat — and the amplifying system that bore a daylong barrage of oratory to visitors eventually collapsed under the strain and forced curtailment of the program,” The Sun reported. “The bridge ... proved it is made of sterner stuff.”

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“From beginning to end, the marathon dedication program lasted 5 hours and 27 minutes,” The Sun said. ”It began near the shadeless, broiling Sandy Point toll booths at 10:40 a.m. and ended 4 miles away in a country-fair atmosphere at Matapeake on the Eastern Shore at 4:07 p.m.

“In the hours between, however, approximately 10,000 people on both sides of the bay milled about, drank soda pop, chased babies, perspired, watched parades, admired the bridge, and ignored most of the awesome oratorical barrage.”

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Gov. Theodore R. McKeldin issued a call "for resistance to the onslaught of hotdog vendors and billboard raisers expected to beset the the bridge approaches for commercial purposes.”

The day dragged on because there were to be dual dedication services, one on each side. "The big show,” as the paper described it, was staged on the western side of the span. It was then transported across to the Eastern Shore, for a reprise.

“The mile-long car caravan that made the crossing traveled, when it wasn’t stopped for pictures, at a funeral pace that ate up an hour and fifteen."

The first cyclist over the bridge was a 14-year-old Annapolis boy, Harvey Donaldson. He told reporters that he worked his way through a column of official cars until he was just behind Gov. McKeldin. The next day, the first full day of operation, a cyclist was turned down and told that crossing the span was “too dangerous.”

The Sun reported that sailors from the Bainbridge Naval Training Center in Cecil County arrived in buses about 15 minutes before the dedicatory parade began. They were dressed in summer whites and “they leaned out of bus windows yelling at girls and greeting the crowd.”

The 60-member Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Glee Club serenaded onlookers and elected officials.

A plane circled with a banner attached reading, “Bay Bridge leads to Ocean City.” A news account said that it was so hot that day, many wished they were at Ocean City.

The curious drivers who waited a day to cross the bridge encountered another first. It was a back up, estimated at about 50 waiting autos on the Sandy Point side. The cause was explained — absent toll takers, who left their booths for lunch while only two entry pay points remained open.

The 1952 toll was $1.40 for a car and driver (the equivalent of $13.55 today). Each additional passenger was charged 25 cents. People figured this one out and some cars deposited their passengers on one side of the toll barrier and had them walk around an unfinished administration building to the other side of the toll plaza to be picked up.

Other enterprising toll crashers drove through a wooded area that had not been fenced off to evade the $1.40, the Sun reported. Barricades were erected immediately.

A man named Omero Catan, who called himself Mr. First had plenty of patience. He, his son and brother parked overnight at the Sandy Point tollgate in hopes of being the first to pay to cross. “The mosquitoes were rough and kept us awake all night,” he said in a brief Sun interview. He had been the first person to buy a token on New York’s Eighth Avenue subway system and was the first person to skate at Rockefeller Center’s ice rink. He was also number one on the Tappan Zee and the George Washington Bridge Bridge. He returned to Maryland again, to pay the first toll when the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel opened.

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