He helped you reach the beach

August 03, 2002|By JACQUES KELLY

SOMEWHERE AMONG my grandfather's worldly possessions was a circular metal washer stamped with the date July 30, 1952. It was a not-so-fancy souvenir he'd picked up and saved the day the Chesapeake Bay Bridge opened. He rode in one of the cars that crossed that day.

"Pop" Edward Jacques Monaghan had his criticisms of the bridge, no matter how many times he crossed it. His experience at Notre Dame University and in the many water-related projects he'd known told him the bridge, as designed, would not be large enough to carry the traffic it would attract.

Speaking with the grand authority a grandfather uses when addressing a grandson, Pop informed me the bridge should have been built to carry four lanes of auto traffic, with an another lane for railroad tracks.

He was right, of course. Not too many years after his death in 1963, the pile drivers arrived to build the second span with he additional traffic lanes he envisioned. His railroad theory never washed.

Pop, who grew up on the shores of the Susquehanna River in Lock Haven, Pa., had a deep appreciation for the powers of water. During his many years as an engineer, he helped harness that river at Holtwood and Safe Harbor with hydroelectric dams. And, when it flooded in the spring of 1936, he was rushed to Scranton, Pa., to deal with the situation.

He spent a good chunk of the early 1930s at Ocean City, where as a civilian employee of the Army Corps of Engineers, he oversaw the design and construction of two huge jetties - the reason that Ocean City's beach is so wide in the old part of town. I always thought this was a neat trick for a man who rarely spent a day on the beach.

Ever the builder, I can see him now, dressed in his casual summer khakis, fully equipped with gold watch chain and Hamilton pocket watch. He'd gesture out over the Ocean City Inlet and tell me of the temporary railroad spur he'd had built to haul the carloads of Brandywine rock for his grand designs.

In a curious way, the widening of the Ocean City beach helped create the need for the Bay Bridge, wherein Pop only had a consultants' role. There was some problem early in the bridge construction - I think he described it as quicksand. In 1950, he was 66 years old. The younger engineers rang the bell for the old man's advice.

Pop lived at the old family house on Guilford Avenue - a typical Baltimore rowhouse, much longer than it was wide. Fellow engineers arrived one day with construction plans. You don't need much of an imagination to see how many rolls of blueprints go into a curving, 4.3-mile-long bridge. The documents stretched from the kitchen pantry to the front vestibule. I'm sure Pop had his ideas on how to build the thing.

After the bridge opened and we'd all pile in a car bound for Dewey or Rehoboth Beach, Pop was never the driver. He was the trip's narrator. And our toll payer, too. I can see him, dipping into his pocket for the old $1.40, one-way toll.

He'd produce two silver dollars to confound the toll takers, who were not used to being paid on the silver standard. Why the silver? Pop loved to get a happy rise out of people, but come to think of it, he also liked to see things done the right way.

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