Chesapeake Bay Bridge: How Four Miles of Steel Changed Maryland Forever

Just what does it take to walk the suspension cables of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge without falling off? How did Marylanders cross the bay before the bridge? And how did the state change after it opened? Viewers will find out when Maryland Public Television (MPT) premieres its latest local production, The Chesapeake Bay Bridge: Spanning the Bay on Monday, April 11, at 9:00 p.m. The one-hour documentary tells the story of how the 4.3-mile bridge opened the Eastern Shore to the west and forever changed Maryland.

The high-definition film takes viewers on a journey that spans more than half a century. It explores the impact the bridge has had on everything from commerce and commuting to vacationing and recreation since opening in 1952. Breathtaking cinematography and archival footage help to paint a vivid picture of what was once the world’s longest over-water structure.

“There are few structural icons in the region that impact our lives in the way the Chesapeake Bay Bridge does,” said Steven J. Schupak, senior vice president at MPT. “The images of the bridge and the stories we were able to uncover from those who were closest to the project really helped bring this collective history alive.”

The film premieres in time to celebrate the bridge’s 60th anniversary in 2012, bringing the bridge alive through the stories of people whose lives were changed by it. During the film’s production in 2010, MPT producers traveled the state in search of Marylander’s tales about the bridge and what the now famous landmark has come to symbolize.

Interviews include Congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley, the Baltimore Sun’s maritime reporter when the bridge opened, as well as engineers who helped design the span and workers who walked the steel beams and girders as the bridge went up.

Stories about the bridge abound. One relates the day when a barge, loaded with one of the main bridge towers enroute to its final destination, broke loose from its tow line and drifted free. In another, Bill Cousimano, who tested rivets on the bridge, talks about the day he witnessed an unlucky coworker plunge 100 feet into the water.

Producers also tell the stories of life for tollbooth attendants, bridge maintenance workers and inspectors, and the Beach Patrol, who were caught off-guard by the midweek crowd that crossed the newly opened bridge and descended on small coastal towns.

“We found stories about the bridge that bring it alive,” said Michael English, executive producer of the film. “We collected archival photos, home movies, videos, letters, postcards – the amount of material out there that documents the construction of it is astounding.”

“A lot of people really have a soft spot for it,” English said. “The Chesapeake Bay Bridge really is an icon for Marylanders that in some way helps to define who we are.”

The premiere also marks MPT’s first 3-D production, a short segment simulating a nostalgic drive across the newly opened bridge in a 1953 Cadillac Eldorado convertible.

“We decided to have a bit of fun with the subject by including a 3-D drive across the bridge, without all the traffic backups,” Schupak explained. “This was our first attempt at this kind of filmmaking, and the idea was to add some new dimension to the program. We really hope everyone enjoys it.”

Glasses for the 3-D segment were distributed in the April MPT Program Guide and will be available in the April 10 and 11 Sunday editions of The Baltimore Sun. Glasses will also be distributed at Bay Bridge toll booths this weekend, just prior to the broadcast.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge: Spanning the Bay premieres Monday, April 11, at 9:00 p.m. as part of MPT’s Chesapeake Bay Week ™. The program re-airs April 16 at 9:00 p.m. and April 12 at 12:01 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. Watch a preview online.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge, promotional sponsors and partners: The Baltimore Sun; Maryland Port Administration; Maryland Transportation Authority. The Bay Initiative, including the Volunteer-a-thon, is sponsored in 2011 in part by Irene and Edward H. Kaplan, The Bancroft Foundation, Bank of America, Chesapeake Bay Trust, Chesapeake Maritime Museum, Greenspring Energy, Ledo Pizza, Maryland Port Administration, the National Aquarium in Baltimore and South Moon Under.

For more information on MPT, visit mpt.org and the MPT pressroom.

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