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Tappan Zee


A Bridge Too Far—Barbara Believes There’s a Lot in a Name

A Bridge Too Far — Barbara Believes There’s a Lot in a Name

Seth Gansevoort Clum, my father’s father, was one of those construction guys who walked on beams hundreds of feet above the ground. He worked on the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center and a number of other landmark structures. There’s a famous photo of eleven workmen eating lunch on an iron girder mid-air during the construction of 30 Rock. Guy number eight, never named, looks just like my grandfather. 

In 1952 construction of The Tappan Zee Bridge began. My grandfather, his three sons Seth, Ernie and my dad, Frank, crewed up and worked as metal lathers. Somewhere in my attic, I have a picture of the four of them standing in the middle of the partially completed span having end-of-the-day beers. 

In 2012, work began to replace that original bridge. This was essential. Engineers on the original bridge had, due to a shortage of building materials because of the Korean War, designed it to last only about fifty years. Still replacing it did not make me happy. 

I called the construction office and told them my story and asked if I could get a hunk of concrete or metal scraps from the bridge. Nope. Asbestos and other people-unfriendly materials were used in construction in 1952. All parts of the original bridge had to be treated as toxic waste.

The Mario M. Cuomo Bridge opened in 2017. Building a newer, safer bridge was the right thing to do. But why did they have to rename it? I signed petitions to go back to original name. Every time I drove across The Tappan Zee Bridge, I thought about my dad, uncles and grandfather. That bridge, for me, was a towering reminder that they had left their mark on New York. At the very least, The New York State Thruway Authority could have left me the name.