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.
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.
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.
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.
That's Bixby Creek down below.
A view from the other side, looking north.
Travels (2001-02) >
Story List > U.S.
Uncle Henry's Bridge