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Uncle Henry's Bridge

(Reprint from News: June 14, 2001)

June 12, 2001


One of the reasons that I decided to take this 18-month journey was to explore my family's history, and my brief visit to California provided my first opportunity to do that.  Many years ago, my mother told me that her uncle, a man named Henry Swang, had helped build the Golden Gate Bridge near San Francisco in the 1930s.  I never met Henry, unfortunately, and I'm afraid that I don't know what happened to him. 


Shortly after my mother passed away a few years ago, I discovered a photo album that had belonged to her mother (my grandmother), which I'd never seen.  The photo album contained dozens of precious black-and-white photos from the early 1900s of relatives that I didn't know and had never met, including photos of my great-grandparents who died many years before I was born.  These were the first pictures that I'd ever seen of them.  The photo album was a treasure trove and none of my living relatives had ever seen the album before, nor the photos in it. 



Left:  This is the only picture that I have of my great-uncle, Henry Swang.  It was taken in 1908 and includes my grandmother Helga (rear right) and her four siblings.  Henry Swang is front left, and Albert, who was injured in the trenches during World War I, is front right.


One of the most precious photos in the dusty album was a picture taken around 1932 of a partially-completed bridge near Big Sur, California.  The caption on the back of the photo said, "This is the bridge Henry is working on." 


Although the old photo was in black-and-white and the bridge was only partly finished, I recognized the bridge and remembered that I'd taken a picture of that very same bridge in 1980 after I'd driven across it during a road trip.  Of course, at the time that I'd driven across it many years before, I didn't realize that my great-uncle Henry had helped to build it.  Today, it's known as the Bixby Bridge and it's one of the most photographed bridges on the California coast.  


I decided to revisit Henry's bridge during this trip and, after leaving the Bay Area, drove down California's Highway 1 to look for it.  I soon discovered the bridge and spent a few hours there admiring Henry's work.  Even though I never knew my great-uncle Henry Swang, visiting his Bixby Bridge was an uplifting event, to put it mildly.  In fact, I still get goosebumps just looking at these pictures.



Above left:  In 1980, I drove up the Pacific Coast Highway.  I was so amazed at this bridge that I pulled over and took this picture after I crossed over it.  At that time, I didn't know what it was called.

Above center:  In 1999, I found this photo in my deceased grandmother's photo album.  There was no caption on it, but it looked like the picture of the bridge that I had shot in 1980.  When I took out my 1980 slide and compared it to this photo, I realized it was the very same bridge.  As I recently learned, my great-uncle Henry Swang helped to build this bridge in 1932. 

Above right:  Me and my great-uncle's bridge.  The Bixby Bridge is one of the most photographed bridges on the California coast.  I spent a couple hours here walking around the bridge.  




Above left:  That's Bixby Creek down below.

Above center:  A view from the other side, looking north.

Above right:  Looking south.



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