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Happy birthday George Washington Bridge! See rare 1981 interview with the man who crossed it ON HORSE on the first day

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This video and story aired on WPIX on Oct. 25, 1981, the 50th anniversary of the George Washington Bridge. We present it on the occasion of bridge’s 82nd birthday, some 32 years after this piece aired on Channel 11. This is the original text and video by Marvin Scott.

California has the Golden Gate, Maryland has the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and New Jersey and New York –- they share the George Washington Bridge. The steel span that connects the two states is celebrating its 50th anniversary on Sunday.

GWB over the Hudson

The George Washington Bridge turns 82. This is how it looked around its 50th birthday.

The George Washington Bridge stands as a towering monument to man’s genius and ability to build. In 3,500 feet of steel and concrete, it leaps over the Hudson River in a single bound, and hangs suspended between water and sky.

With its massive twin towers rising 600 feet above the water, “George”, as the bridge is affectionately known, stands the third largest suspension bridge in the world. And with a total of 14 lanes, it’s the only one of its kind. Since its opening, almost 2 billion vehicles have crossed the bridge, 82 million last year alone. A far cry from the mere 55,000 that made the trip on October 25, 1931 – that’s 55,000 vehicles and one horse, ridden by one 27-year-old Morton Salomon, an adventurer who simply wanted to be the first.

Salomon stitch

Morton Salomon in 1931, top, and above in 1981. He was the first to cross the George Washington Bridge on a horse.

“It was either going to be a horse or an automobile, but with gasoline at around 20 cents a gallon, I decided on a horse. At the head of the bridge, the sergeant of police came out, trying to decide what to charge me to go across the bridge – they hadn’t set that figure yet. If I was given a horse today, I would ride it across at this moment, even though I am 77 years old.”

workers GWB

Workers on the GW Bridge were paid around $8 an hour, almost a dollar more than today’s minimum wage.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, governor of New York then, helped dedicate the bridge, which took over four years to complete, and finished eight months ahead of schedule, and cost a total of $58 million – a million below original estimates.

Workmen – many of them Mohawk Indian – earned around eight dollars an hour, stringing the supporting cables which contained enough galvanized steel wires to go around the world four times.

Master builder O.H. Ammann designed his bridge to combine beauty with utility and strength. It has withstood the test of time. The George Washington Bridge has been completely closed only once in 50 years – last year – when a leaking valve on a propane gas truck raised fears of an imminent explosion. Robbers have been apprehended on the bridge, babies have been delivered on the bridge’s span, and a private plane once made an emergency landing on the center roadway.

old cars on the GWB

55,000 vehicles made the trip across the George Washington Bridge on Oct. 25, 1931.

No official records have been kept of the exact number, but over the years, several people have jumped from this bridge. Legend has it that at least one man was thwarted from committing suicide by an alert police officer – who approached him with his gun drawn, and reportedly said “If you jump, I’ll shoot.”

Faced with the options, the would-be suicide decided to live. The George Washington Bridge is part of the life of the 250 people who work there. To many, the bridge is like a member of the family.

Giorgi GWB

James Giorgi was the assistant bridge manager at the time, and had a special place in his heart for the bridge.

James Giorgi, Assistant bridge manager, said:  “Well I’ve been with the bridge for so long that my children have constantly boasted to their friends at school and everything else that whenever they crossed the George Washington, it was Daddy’s bridge.”

GWB over the Hudson at night

Le Corbusier said the GW was the “most beautiful bridge in the world.”

The bridge has inspired everything from oil paintings to postage stamps. It’s been the subject of at least one novel. A musical composition was written by distinguished composer William Schuman – its title “George Washington Bridge.” Noted French architect Le Corbusier once observed “The George Washington Bridge on the Hudson is the most beautiful bridge in the world. It is the only seat of grace in a disordered city.”

Words of tribute that are as great a monument as the monument itself.