It was among the longest bridges in the world. The was virtually named the Magic Carpet. This is what else you didn’t know around Tampa Bay’s iconic bridge.

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The initial Sunshine Skyway Bridge opened up to the public 66 years ago today, linking the fragmentised Tampa Bay an ar together and also transforming the west shore of Florida.

The $22-million Skyway stretched from St. Pete’s Maximo point at the end of 34th Street S come Terra Ceia Island come U.S. 41 in Manatee County. In ~ the time, it to be the longest unbroken bridge in the U.S. And also one the the longest in the world.


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1954 AP picture of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. In the photo is a dedication motorcade together it the cross the main expectancy after officially opening the world"s longest prestressed concrete bridge. < St. Petersburg times >

The then-St. Petersburg Times commemorated by printing a thick special ar that weighed five pounds and also contained about 330 articles and 460 pictures. The Sept. 6, 1954 front web page story dubbed it “the work they traction the cork on Pinellas County’s bottleneck the a quarter century.”


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Front page of the St. Petersburg time September 6, 1954. < St. Petersburg time >

The original Sunshine Skyway

Before the Skyway, St. Petersburg to be an isolated, sleepy fishing town. To access it native the south, travelers could take the bee Line Ferry, though only one to 2 thousand cars might reportedly do it throughout each day. The only method to journey to St. Petersburg indigenous the southern was to take U.S. 41 north from Manatee come Hillsborough, then drive throughout the Gandy Bridge.

For 3 decades, human being kicked about the dream of using a tunnel or leg to overcome the bay. And for three decades, numerous said it can not be done.

When the original Skyway to be built, it had actually one span and also two lanes. In 1971, website traffic prompted construction of a second span moving southbound vehicle drivers west the the initial span.


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Aerial view of development on Sunshine Skyway"s twin bridge, looking south. < BERNIE ORAM | St. Petersburg time >

The Skyway wasn’t just a means to do things much easier for locals. It opened up up the Pinellas and also Manatee beaches come travelers, said historian Bill DeYoung, writer of “Skyway: The True Story the Tampa Bay’s Signature Bridge and also the man Who carried it Down."


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Snapped just prior to their convertible joined others in the procession across Sunshine Skyway shortly after opening ceremonies yesterday were two attractive wives of influential Floridians. ~ above the left is Mrs. Courtney Campbell, mam of the U. S. Representative. With her is Mrs. Spessard Holland, mam of the U.S. Senator. < employee | St. Petersburg times >

Naming the Skyway

The St. Pete junior Chamber of Commerce and what was then-called the State road Department organized a nationwide naming contest. In simply a month, much more than 20,000 entries submarine in from every state ― and even Canada. A dashboard of neighborhood judges sifted through each submission.

Entries weren’t allowed to reference geographical regions or surname of people. Notable rejects included the Magic Carpet, Loveland Span, Pearly Gates, the Glory Road, Alladin’s Ramp and also the Garden of Eden.


Eleven that the peak 20 finalists consisted of the prefix “sun." The runner up: Suncoast Skyline.

The to win name came from Indian Rocks coast resident Virginia Seymour, the owner that Gulf Ranch Resort. Three days prior to the leg opened, Seymour was given a plaque, one engraved watch and a paint of the bridge at the Coliseum’s Sunshine Skyway Dedication Ball held on Sept. 3, 1954.


J.C. And Virginia Seymour in ~ the Dedication ball Sept. 3, 1954 in ~ the St. Petersburg Coliseum. < Tampa Bay time >

The day the Skyway opened


The Sunshine Skyway was celebrated the weekend before the cool opening. < Times files >

A cool opening consciousness christening the Sunshine Skyway leg took place at an early stage in St. Petersburg ~ above the morning that Sept. 6, 1954. Ice cream cream and also soda sellers lined the streets and dignitaries and also politicians gathered come speak. Ten “bridge beauties,” representing 10 counties follow me Florida’s west coast, take it a turn adding oversized counties into a huge Florida map.


Acting governor Charley Johns identified the new bridge together "a mighty and also majestic monument to the participating spirit of man" as he officially opened the Sunshine Skyway bridge to the general public in St. Petersburg ceremonies. < UNKNOWN | St. Petersburg time >

Then, the motorcade started: in ~ 9:25 a.m., 500 car lined as much as drive from the Pinellas next of the bridge and also paraded throughout the Skyway for the an initial time. A dozen planes and two helicopters flew end the triumphant inaugural drive.

When the motorcade do it to Bradenton on the various other side, they organized the opened ceremony anywhere again.


Helicopter records over main expectancy of Sunshine Skyway opened day. Picture shows exactly how bridge zooms up from technique level come 150.5 feet over water as it the cross Tampa Bay ship channel. < employee | St. Petersburg time >

“It was a wonderful, trembling experience,” created Times reporter Tom Harris. “The kind of a thing that wake up only as soon as in a lifetime, and also was fine worth the effort of rolling the end of bed in ~ 8.a.m."


M.C. Fountain, local printing shop operator, was the only human of color holding a 1949 Spans celebration button which entitled him to overcome the Sunshine Skyway in the distinct section scheduled for the holders. < staff | St. Petersburg time >

After the motorcade, the leg was opened up to the public. Tolls were suspended native 11 a.m. Come 11 p.m. On that first day.


Harold K. Moser, 4942 6th Ave. S., St., Petersburg, provides $1.75 to Mrs. Rosemary Cason, Sunshine Skyway toll-taker, to be the first person cross the big bridge after 11 o"clock free-admission deadline last night. < employee | St. Petersburg time >

Toll operators counted 15,086 cars on that an initial day. An ext than 50,000 civilization were approximated to have actually journeyed throughout the leg that day, whether they talk in buses and also trucks or biked and also walked across.


September 1954Two currently of car cross end the Sunshine Skyway in the opening ceremonies on labor Day 1954.BRIDGES :, SUNSHINE SKYWAY : DEDICATION, main CEREMONIES < staff | St. Petersburg times >

“People who never prior to had been to Palmetto, Bradenton, Sarasota or St. Petersburg obtained acquainted with these urban yesterday because that the an initial time and good neighborliness reigned,” wrote Harris.


Hundreds of watercrafts gathered approximately the leg to celebrate in the blue waters the the bay. The Aquamaniacs Ski society performed a water ballet. There to be a run at the Bradenton Municipal Pier and the miss Sunshine Skyway pageant was held at Anna Maria Island.

Even the punishment Line Ferry got a special sendoff together it made its final run that night.


Rica Diallina, miss out on Greece, hands a replica of the Sunshine Skyway to exhilaration Gov. Charley Johns at the leg opening ceremonies top top the St. Petersburg side. Johns inserted the bridge in the facility of the map of Florida"s West coastline (in rear) linking the 10 counties together. The counties - Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee, and Collier - were represented by Skyway princesses, every wearing a shining red shower suit. < TRABANT, GEORGE | St. Petersburg times >

It wasn’t every fun, though. Tampa’s David Carpenter had actually the unfortunate honor of gift the first to gain a flat tire ~ above the Skyway, and also Tampa bridge worker Richard F. Spivey was involved in the first accident. Those misfortunes came after a lengthy wait to obtain on the bridge.

North that the Skyway, web traffic stopped fully as thousands sat in your cars top top 34th Street and also Tangerine and Lakeview Avenues, wait for their turn to take the historic drive. Cars donate up in Manatee County together well.

In the Times, Lowell Brandle wrote in a obelisk that it to be “the greatest traffic jam in the history of Pinellas and Manatee counties."


At a optimal rate of more than 1,300 cars per hour, website traffic crossed the world"s longest pre emphasize concrete bridge, covering Tampa bay to attach Florida"s west shore together. Take trip was free until 11 p.m. < employee | St. Petersburg times >
It was July 1954, two months before the initial Sunshine Skyway opened and also Rube Allyn might smell a good story. V photographer Bob Moreland right behind him, snapping pictures ended up being the very first to overcome the 15 mile bridge from end to end. < UNKNOWN | St. Petersburg times >4,100,000 cubic yards the sand were dredged to type the causeways. This would have been sufficient to cover half of Pass-a-Grille.12,104,000 pounds that structural steel and 8,536,700 pounds the reinforcing steel were supplied to develop the Skyway, and 115,980 cubic yards that concrete.$21,250,000 were supplied from a revenue bond problem from the State development commission.544 world worked on the bridge.11 of the Skyway’s 15 miles to be suspended end water.5 bridges linked together six sections.2 lanes were ~ above the original solitary span bridge. There was no passing.45 mph was the maximum rate limit. The minimum speed was 35 mph.3 counties bridged: The Skyway crossed through Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee counties.$1.75 was the initial toll because that a single passenger auto making a one-way trip. Pedestrians and also bicyclists payment a 50-cent toll.
A lone candle adorns the very first anniversary cake because that the Sunshine Skyway. Here, Burr Baird, baker in ~ Nagel"s Bakery, puts on finishing touches. An ext than a million people crossed the Skyway since its opened a year prior. < MORELAND, BOB | St. Petersburg times >

A terrifying drive


The Skyway cross begins and the motorcade pauses fifty percent way increase the main span to offer dignitaries a opportunity to look earlier over s Sunshine Skyway open to traffic. < employee | St. Petersburg times >

Tom Harris created that the ride was thrilling, specifically ascending the rise up come the 150.5-foot high center span.


“This is an ext delightful because that Floridians 보다 anyone else due to the fact that Florida has couple of respectable hills in its totality area," that wrote. “To journey a car above sea level to be something natives, unless they live near Brooksville or Tallahassee, said they had actually never skilled before.”

The 5-degree incline conjured a emotion of going increase a roller coaster, said historian Bill DeYoung.

“You’d go up so sluggish up the side through this feeling of dread knowing you would go really fast down the various other side,” the said. "You couldn’t watch anything — it was so steep.”

Drivers would white-knuckle as much as the highest point, where the road turned to steel grating. Then came the low rumble the tires thumping end the bumps. During the day, passengers could look under though the grate in ~ churning tide splashing below.

At night came complete darkness. There were no lamp on the original bridge.

“That sense of, ‘I’m really out here, ns hurtling though the universe all alone and also I’m 150 feet over the water,’" said DeYoung. “Yeah, it was a little terrifying.”

The original Skyway’s flaws were exposed to damaging effect 25 years, eight months and three work later.

The freighter Summit Venture, blinded by a storm, crashed into the bridge’s assistance columns in ~ 7:33 a.m. On may 9, 1980. A 1,200-foot expectations of the southbound bridge collapsed into the bay, and 35 world lost your lives.


The 1980 disaster rendered that expectations unusable. Control on the staying northbound expectations would become even more nerve-wracking.

“You look at over and there’s the damaged bridge right here," DeYoung said. “It was this painful reminder that what happened, favor ‘There but for the grace of God walk I."”


A motorcade of excited drivers make the first public cross of the brand-new Sunshine Skyway bridge on Sept. 6, 1954. The engineering marvel was the proud of building and construction superintendent Arthur Goodale. < FLORIDA ARCHIVES | Tampa Tribune >

Over 400 members that the “I Love St. Pete” Facebook team shared your memories that the bridge. Few of the submissions:

Kevin Waters: “I was a boy going over the thing and it was by much the scariest bridge I’ve ever before been over. That was called the skyway for a reason and also you precise felt choose you to be going right into the sky.”Debbie Barnard: “I remember mine dad taking united state for a drive over and back, just for the funny of it! One time, in ~ night, the turned off the headlights just as we reached the grating! scared the crap the end of me and also my brother!!”Janet Schultz Helmick: “Was always scared together a child as soon as going over the bridge due to the fact that you could not watch the various other side. Ns was always afraid that would end at the top. The many eerie time, though, to be after the wreck. I was in high school and we were driving in a school bus to a game in Sarasota. See the various other side of the bridge ... And then not ... Sent chills under my spine!”Annee Marin: “Oh my, so numerous memories! my grandfather, that was a Greek immigrant, supplied to take it my small brother and I tomato picking in Ruskin via the Skyway. Grandpa would always make one adventure that it and also bellow, “Is everybody happy?” once his 1962 Studebaker reached the span, come which we would respond merrily, “Yeah!” as a aboriginal Floridian, the will constantly be among my favorite childhood memories!”Suzanne Marsh: “I always loved going over bridges and remember the sound of the grates when driving over. Also remember driving over and also looking in ~ the lost part of the bridge and also the water below. I was too young to be driving then and also had time to yes, really look. The was devastating sight. Remember where I was as soon as I heard the news too.”

The new Skyway


Construction top top a significant portion of the Sunshine Skyway leg in 1986. < ERIC MENCHER | St. Petersburg times >
Construction briefly quit on the north pier of the Sunshine Skyway leg in 1986 when state Officials and also the span"s building and construction contractor made decision the following step in correcting a roadway misalignment. < TONY LOPEZ | St. Petersburg time >

A brand-new bridge opened seven year after the disaster. While the Skyway us use now is a much various bridge, its name still conjures memories of the 1980 Skyway disaster.

The brand-new Skyway hulked end the initial bridge, peaking in ~ 430 feet tall. Around 60,000 vehicles journey over the every day. It remains among the most iconic local landmarks in the area.


The newer Sunshine Skyway leg that is offered today, left, stands alongside the old bridge prior to it was turned into a fishing pier. < Morris that Selbypic >

The Tampa Theatre will hold the premiere the a brand-new documentary, “The Skyway bridge Disaster,” ~ above Sept. 15. Next year will mark the 40th anniversary the the tragedy.

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“That leg is our mountain,” said historian Will Michaels. “It’s the highest allude in the whole area right here in Tampa Bay.”


Aerial view of the Sunshine Skyway bridge October 31, 2006. < LARA CERRI | St. Petersburg times >

Times an elderly news researcher john Martin added to this report, which uses product compiled from times archives.


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