Advance Notice: Briefs

On this day in 1958: ‘Soapy’ walks along the Mackinac Bridge

By: - June 25, 2021 9:08 am

Mackinac Bridge | Laina G. Stebbins

Official dedication ceremonies for the newly built Mackinac Bridge began on June 25, 1958.

The occasion featured a walk across the five-mile suspension structure led by Gov. G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams, the liberal Democrat who served from 1949 to 1961. At that time, Michigan governors served as many two-year terms as voters were willing to give them, as it was before term limits.

On that day, about 100 people, including Williams, were met with a steady drizzle and light fog. Donning a Fedora and a plastic raincoat, Williams completed the walk in one hour and six minutes.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Williams after the walk, according to the Detroit Free Press.

In 1923 the Michigan Legislature directed the State Highway Department to establish a ferry service at the straits. The effort to provide a bridge to connect the Upper and Lower peninsulas began in the early 1950s with the creation of the Mackinac Straits Bridge Authority. Construction began on May 7, 1954. The bridge cost $70.2 million to build and it opened to traffic on Nov. 1, 1957.

Since that time, Michigan governors have attended walking ceremonies each Labor Day. In 1992, 82,000 people walked across the bridge with GOP Gov. John Engler and President George H.W. Bush. In 2003 and 2004, Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, jogged the length of the bridge.  

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.