One test of a great landmark is its ability to serve as both public icon and private monument. The Golden Gate Bridge excels by both counts, and that’s why we recognize its anniversaries and milestones like we do those of loved ones.
Click on the photo to the right to see more pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge.
In some cases we celebrate its birthdays as our own. To Thomas Teal, the two are one and the same. Teal was born in Omaha, Neb., on May 28, 1937, the same date the new bridge was dedicated — a fact he didn’t discover until his 30th birthday, in an odd twist of fate that has reverberated throughout his life ever since.
At the time, Teal attended graduate school at UC Berkeley and shared an apartment in the Berkeley Hills with beguiling views of the Golden Gate Bridge. On his birthday in 1967, he finally decided to walk across it. That’s when he found the plaque noting that he and the bridge were born on the same day. A bond formed swiftly and irrevocably.
For another couple of years, Teal continued to walk the bridge on May 28.
He later moved out of the area, but continued the tradition. On his 50th birthday, he and his wife drove in from Denver. (Four days earlier, on May 24, 1987, a crush of 300,000 fellow revelers had flattened the bridge’s normally arced central span during a celebration of its silver anniversary.)
In 1997 and 2007, Teal and his wife flew in from their home in Boston — which, incidentally, is loaded with pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge. This year they’ll be back again, repeating the same ritual he unwittingly initiated 45 years ago.
“It’s just a coincidence, but it’s a coincidence I decided to make the most of, because the bridge is so beautiful,” Teal said. “And because the Golden Gate itself and the Marin Headlands are just one of the most beautiful places in the world.” When he dies, he said, he’d like his family to scatter his ashes there.
Kate Curry is only 22 years old, but she, too, feels tied to the bridge. She grew up in the Bay Area and developed an affinity for the bridge from an early age — it offered a symbol of stability and permanence in an otherwise tumultuous world. Both of her parents were drug addicts who moved the family around the region constantly. No matter where she ended up, she said, the bridge always represented home.
Her life has since settled down, and now the bridge means something new. Every January on New Year’s Day, as many as 20 members of her mom’s family gather at the Golden Gate Bridge’s south end. As a group, they walk to Marin and back to celebrate sobriety and the coming year. Three years ago, Curry got a tattoo of the bridge on her calf.
Marie Fogle, whose husband Harry painted the bridge from construction until 1976, has a different perspective. In 62 years of marriage, she never once persuaded him to walk with her across it.
“It’s like a bus driver asking to take you on a bus trip,” Harry used to joke — that is not exactly the way he wanted to spend his weekends. After his death, his widow and 17 family members finally took to the span in his honor, a memorialization of one bridge’s momentous role in a man’s life.
Other major events from the bridge’s birth year: