Requiem for the Tappan Zee Bridge 1955-2019

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by Linda Viertel –

On January 15, 2019, the day of the Tappan Zee’s western section demolition, The Historical Society, Inc. serving Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow opened its doors to a pop-up exhibit featuring memorabilia, photographs, newspapers, signed guest books and ephemera all involving the original 1955 bridge construction and opening festivities.

“In Memoriam” cards were given to the 50 attendees who were greeted by a massive photo of the Tappan Zee Bridge draped in black crepe fabric and still being mourned. The current exhibit centers on two standing glass cabinets filled with newspaper articles explaining the impact on both Tarrytown and Nyack of the original construction— what changed (easier car connectivity across this region of the Hudson), and what disappeared (the ferry that plied the river daily). “Hands Across the Tappan Zee” read The Daily News headline.  Original photos of pre-construction and construction show the estates that disappeared such as the Luke Estate along the river. One photo reveals the mansion and carriage house in the act of being destroyed. Before construction, one can see that houses were torn down on Sheldon Avenue, though new houses went up after the bridge was complete.

Memorabilia from the official opening on December 15, 1955 includes a guest book that local attendees and dignitaries signed for the dedication; signers include Governor Averill Harriman, Robert Moses, Tarrytown Mayor Edward N. Vetrano (the ceremony’s honorary chairman) and North Tarrytown’s Village Clerk Filomena Fallocaro. On the night before dedication, December 14, 1955, a dinner was held at Tappan Hill to accommodate the overflow from the dedication luncheon being held on opening day. Both guest books provide a “who’s who” of New York State officials.

Special appreciation is due to Catherine P. McCaul, Tarrytown’s Village Clerk at that time, for all her photos memorializing the pre-construction, construction, and opening day ceremonies, then placing them into a series of scrapbooks which her family donated to the Historical Society in the 1960’s. It was during this era that she won the “Man of the Year” award from the Sleepy Hollow/Tarrytown Chamber of Commerce. Executive Director of the Historical Society, Sara Mascia, and historians Maura Gilroy and Charlene Weigel curated the exhibit, even including photos from films such as Butterfield 8 and North by Northwest that feature the Tappan Zee Bridge.

The Historical Society is collecting memories of the bridge for this exhibition, so please stop by and include your thoughts for the archives. Young and old are welcome to write down what you would like to share about either bridge. Let The Historical Society know if you were there for opening day in 1955 or witnessed the January 15, 2019 demolition.

Noted local artist Ronnie Levine has donated five different scenes which are for sale with proceeds going to The Historical Society, or they are free with a sustaining or new family membership. The exhibit will be on view until early May, so don’t miss a rare opportunity to witness our iconic bridge’s beginnings before we experience its final demise.

If You Go

The Historical Society, Inc.
1 Grove Street
Tarrytown, Ny 10591

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