Uncover The Discovery Of Centuries-Old Secrets That Lurked Beneath The Golden Gate Bridge
Linking the city of San Francisco to Marin County, the Golden Gate Bridge once retained its title as the tallest and longest suspension bridge in the world in 1937. It consists of 4,200 feet of incredible man-made steel. To this day, tourists from all over come to take photos of this glorious structure and revel in its scenic beauty.
Despite the beauty of the bridge, there are certainly some dark secrets that lurk far below its stunning aesthetics. All of the postcards that are sold featuring the bridge only show its splendor and glory. Finally, some shocking secrets from the bridge’s past have come to light. We’ve only been waiting for more than a century for answers.
San Francisco Bay's Shady Past
The architectural wonder was originally designed and structured by engineer Joseph Strauss. Resembling sentinels, there were two bridge towers standing upright protecting the Golden Gate Strait, where the bridge got its name.
1775 was the year that the bay was sailed through for the first time ever. Thousands of commuters travel across the Golden Gate Bridge and they probably don’t take a moment to appreciate its grandeur, much less its extensive history. The thick fog that rolls through the strait often blinds automobiles and bicycles, just like the European and Asian navigators from the past experienced.
The Golden Gate Bridge Is A World Famous Structure
The bridge played a crucial part of making the lives of San Francisco and Marin County residents much easier. It also made the region more viable commercially while also promoting its tourism industry, which pulls in about 10 million visitors every year.
Pedestrians are the majority of the population that cross the bridge, a symbol of the structure’s earliest days when people would walk, tap-dance, and ride bikes across it. They clearly had no idea what lurked beneath its golden arches.
History Always Repeats Itself
Some data has been gathered about the bridge’s geographical location, which can be used in hopes of modern technology being able to unearth more discoveries.
Finally, the secrets kept in the deep have been unleashed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Strong winds and the haze has deterred many adventurers, even those with the hardiest of souls.
NOAA are aware of how challenging it will be to get past the dangerous currents of the strait, even though there have been technological advancements.
The Passage Would Be Risky To Travel Through
Foreign sailors were unaware of this narrow opening for years. Beyond the foggy atmopshere, they could have only imagined that the ranges of the vast coast stretched far and wide. But, venturing into the fog posed to be too much of a risk for many of these travelers, thus they avoided it.
The opening was first spotted in 1769 with travelers on land. The Spanish Naval Forces gained access through the bay of San Francisco, but it took six extra years.
Braving Treacherous Weather Wasn't Easy
The battering of the adventurers’ ships by the volatile Pacific Ocean current led to this confusing discovery. They eventually crashed against jagged, somewhat exposed coastal rocks. With the ship’s mast battling wildly against the gale, the seafarers were mercilessly tossed overboard into the treacherous waters.
Attempt after attempt was made until foreign travelers could actually navigate through the bay with success and anchor at ancient ports. Today, San Francisco’s reclaimed land consists of those ports.
The Early Settlers Experienced San Franciso's Potential
Led by Juan Manuel de Ayala, Spanish explorers erected settlements in a gradual manner. Even though the explorers lacked good navigational charts and guides, the addition of more sailors that entered and settled around the growing harbor was surely helpful.
At that time, the territory was under Mexico’s rule. Eventually, the area was released from the Spanish and their mission system, and gained freedom. In time, it was turned over to the United States following the end of the Mexican-American War.
San Francisco was destined to become the largest city on the West Coast. The advent of the Gold Rush in 1849 helped its rapid development.
The Onslaught Of The Gold Rush Changed Everything
In California, the accidental discovery of golden nuggets buried along creeks and streambeds led to a massive boom. Even though the locals tried to keep this a special secret, the dawn of the Gold Rush was near sooner than they could have known.
The Golden State would subsequently attract hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world.
The trek to the Golden Gate bridge would be difficult for outsiders who were traveling to California. The local economy was reinvigorated, along with San Francisco’s ports, which were at the center of global attention.
If there was one factor that could cause San Francisco to stagnate, it was the region’s geographical restrictions. In spite of its coastal developments, the area could not establish a sustainable link with other communities and settlements around the bay. It was painfully isolated and would have been locked out entirely if not for its ports.
The only mode of transportation to San Francisco and the region now known as Marin County was by boat. They had to do better if the city were to develop. So local authorities brainstormed endlessly, hoping for the right idea to come.
An Impossible Endeavor
With no alternative routes to and from San Francisco, the city’s development was in a precarious position. Traveling by ship was still too dangerous, making it unreliable as a sole mode of transport. The concept of building a bridge was finally put forward.
However, it was unanimously deemed an impossible feat. At around 372 feet, the channel was simply too deep for engineers to install stable foundations. It was often beset by strong winds and poor visibility, and the water current was rough and unpredictable. Still, they eventually ran the idea by some engineers.
The initial budget presented to complete the project was sky-high. The design Strauss suggested was met with criticism and doubt, and the US Navy feared unnecessary ship traffic could accumulate in one of its important harbors. If the bridge was not high enough, larger vessels could be in peril when crossing, especially during high tide.
Authorities didn’t have many options on their hands. The concept of a bridge was also a threat to the ongoing ferry business. All these challenges nagged at them, and that was before the environmental hazards had even been taken into account.
The Initial Design
Joseph Strauss was confident enough to present his plan to build a bridge with massive cantilevers protruding from both ends. These, he explained, would be supported in the middle by a specially designed suspension. The construction budget would’ve cost around $400 million today.
A compromise was reached between Joseph Strauss and local authorities that other specialists would have to be brought in to incorporate design improvements based on individual expertise. It was a reasonable proposal since Strauss had no experience in building bridges of this magnitude.
Realization of the Project
Thanks to the input of various structural experts who worked hard to complement each other, a realistic picture began to form. From its artistic design to its cable suspensions, railings, lightings, and towers, the bridge was ready to build. In 1937, the project many thought could never be done was finished at last.
Now, the landmark is a favorite among locals and tourists alike, deemed a modern-day wonder of engineering. It remains highly dependable, and its design is as graceful as it is long, reaching out through the Pacific Ocean like a ballet dancer’s slender arm.
Golden Gate Bridge Today
More than eighty years since the supposedly impossible project’s completion, the link between San Francisco to Marin County accommodates more than a hundred thousand vehicles a day. This is a figure that would have been laughed at for its utter unattainability during the Gold Rush days.
People are able to traverse conveniently in minutes, safely suspended above the ripping currents responsible for numerous disasters through the years. The deaths of countless travelers seeking a better life have been attributed to these waters. Many damaged hulls and gashed ships were swallowed into the belly of the ocean.
With commuters able to go across with ease, it seemed that the dark secrets beneath the bridge would lose the attention they once demanded, fading further beyond visibility in the turbid waters.
However, the researchers at NOAA never lost sight of their mission to uncover these underwater mysteries. They were armed with technological equipment that gathered the data they needed. With charts of the ocean, atmospheric monitoring systems, weather forecasting, and more, they were able to zero in on their target.
Scanning the Ocean Floor
Researchers at NOAA keep a close eye over the planet’s systems and analyze all pertinent data. They have the ability to scan the ocean floor with the latest instruments, and they are official stewards of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. This preserved marine environment is close to the California coastline.
Tasked with the assessment and with forecasting changes in the environment and its marine species, researchers from NOAA consistently observe and scan the bottom of the ocean. This allows them to complete extensive studies and discover new organisms.
Not only are they interested in atmospheric changes and complex conditions but also the treacherous currents around the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. They scan the depths of the ocean for scientific aims. Once in a while, they’re surprised by what they are offered by the dark abyss.
As if to hide from the prying eyes of scientists, old shipwrecks cover themselves with barnacles, turning into accidental reefs. However, these disguises aren’t thorough enough to trick the researchers.
Heavily covered in moss, these wrecks that now lie on the ocean floor used to be lively and operative on the windy surface, full of life and the spirit of adventure. They are examined by researchers for their historical and economic value, and more of them keep showing up, pushed into view by the tides.
NOAA specialists decided it was time to scan closer to the Golden Gate Bridge with a multibeam sonar. They found a string of locations that sparked their curiosity, beckoning them to advance further.
Spotting one shipwreck after another has proven hypnotic to these scientists, whose curiosity seems insatiable. People used to scour the seas from the main deck of these ships, peering through the telescope in search of uncharted land from underneath the masts. Now, sharks, deep-sea fish, and worms reside in and around their remains.
Researchers sent down ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles) to probe these wreckages more closely, hoping to understand more about them, especially in reference to the Golden Gate Bridge’s rich history.
The Discovery of Noonday
Underwater sonar spotted what researchers believe was the medium-size clipper ship, Noonday. It was meticulously built in 1855 and was known for its beautiful design. The ship used to transport gold prospectors and breakbulk cargo into San Francisco, along with many others drawn by the Gold Rush.
Noonday continued to sail past those days of economic excitement that brought around three hundred thousand people and grew San Francisco into a city. It was said that people rushed directly from their ships, leaving them behind to search for gold.
The clipper, designed for speed, had been in service for eight years when it met its fate in San Francisco. Unlike most ships that entered the area in distress, Noonday sailed in when the weather was ideal for travel, on the 1st of January, 1863.
They must have been in a festive mood on New Year’s, and the environment seemed to cooperate with their arrival. Then tragedy struck in the form of a partially submerged rock that damaged the ship’s hull. The value of its cargo was estimated to be around $600,000.
The Fate of the Noonday Sailors
After the ship struck the uncharted rock, it was able to buy the crew time to safely disembark. Being close to the harbor, a pilot boat was able to come up at short notice and save all of the crew from doom.
The stealthy rock that it accidentally rammed was eventually called Noonday Rock. Like all the other ships that have become victims of the Golden Gate’s treacherous waters, the location of Noonday had been long forgotten. The ship itself was barely noticeable under scanning sonars in 2014.
Identifying the Noonday Debris
The general goods that Noonday transported to San Francisco from Boston were said to be worth $600,000 in today’s currency. After 139 days of travel, its high-valued cargo was mostly lost to the ocean, unable to be salvaged. None of these precious goods could be identified on the transducer screen.
In fact, the images reflected back by soundwaves were obscure. However, the researchers made sense of it because of its size, the background data they had on the ship, and its proximity to the infamous Noonday Rock, where history tells us it ran aground.
240 Feet Underwater
The midsized clipper was capable of carrying 1,500 tons worth of load, and the length of its hull was 197 feet, with large sails above the main deck. However, 160 years had passed since it ran aground, so the ROVs NOAA sent couldn’t pick out its debris from the muck.
They knew it was there from the digitized images displayed on the sonar screen. James Delgado, maritime heritage director of the NOAA, says there is no doubt that Noonday is there, although its vestiges are blanketed under the seabed.
The Remains of S.S. Selja
Under the wide blue spread of the Pacific Ocean, at the feet of the Golden Gate Bridge, lies a boneyard filled with 19th-century wreckages. Reports say this is the final resting place of hundreds of shipwrecks.
Soon after researchers identified the location of Noonday, they found the remnants of the Steam Ship Selja. This workhorse was built in 1907 in England, and it traveled as far as China and Japan before returning to San Francisco.
Surprised by the Discovery
NOAA officials were pleasantly surprised that their Noonday discovery inadvertently led them to the steam ship’s location. In contrast to the frustration of their previous find, they were amazed that the ROVs actually found remains of S.S. Selja, which went underwater off Point Reyes.
Because of the violent nature of its downfall, nobody expected to see many parts of the ship intact. At the time of its discovery, the Selja had become an artificial reef – far from its original purpose of carrying goods between America and the Far East.
Collision with S.S. Beaver
The S.S. Selja was closing in on its destination, not far off the Golden Gate strait, on November 22, 1910. It continued to sail at a regular speed into the dense shroud that bedeviled sailors on the approach to the San Francisco harbor.
Instead of shutting off the steamship’s engine upon hearing the whistle of the S.S. Beaver, it continued to sail blindly into the haze, thinking that the warning came from 20 miles away at Port Bonita. This decision led to a collision that cost the lives of two people.
Fortunately, the S.S. Beaver was able to survive the accident and quickly turned back to San Francisco harbor. Its owners were sued by Olaf Lie, captain of the S.S. Selja, who was eventually found to be at fault by the ensuing investigations.
Reports say that Lie should have practiced more caution upon entry into the fog and that the engines should have been turned off at the first warning of an incoming vessel. His negligence caused the unnecessary loss.
Two Unidentified Ships
After NOAA’s first two discoveries in the area came two more wreckages regarding which they didn’t have enough information to draw a conclusion. During the last couple of days of the survey, it seemed that there was far more work to be done than initially expected.
The vestiges of one of the discovered shipwrecks looked to be in very bad shape after its long exposure to seawater. The other was a tugboat covered with multiple fishnets that wavered on the edges like a dark cape billowing in the wind.
300 Estimated Shipwrecks
The influx of hundreds of thousands of gold-seekers had many effects on the city of San Francisco. Sadly, this involved the region seeing many of its indigenous peoples being marginalized. It was a risky venture, but people took their chances on back-breaking work that could open up years’ worth of profit.
This used to be a vital American port for the trade industry. The ship traffic in the area was at its peak during the Gold Rush, despite the channel’s deadly current and strong winds. This explains why so many sunken vessels have been found.
Two hundred years prior to the consolidation of Spanish rule, the Spanish Galleon San Agustin visited the San Francisco area carrying Chinese goods via the Philippines. They were on their way to Mexico.
Archeological data found in the area suggests that this is the oldest shipwreck around the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the marine sanctuary. So far, on record, the most recent to have succumbed to the tumultuous environment was a Puerto Rican tanker back in the 1980s.
More Work to Be Done
Roughly a week’s worth of underwater exploration around the San Francisco bay area was hardly enough for NOAA researchers to grasp its whole history of shipwrecks. It is a graveyard, they now realize, of 16th-century ships onwards, filled with voyagers from perhaps every continent.
Ships have been twisted and broken in half after nose-diving down the ocean. What researchers couldn’t see through their submersible ROVs they have felt by reading historical data. Another shipwreck they’ve identified is that of the S.S. City of Chester.
Fate of the S.S. City of Chester
The S.S. City of Chester was on its way to the city of Eureka, California, one foggy day when it collided with the R.M.S. Oceanic that was entering the harbor from Hong Kong. Both ships were aware and had sufficient visibility of each other.
However, the City of Chester was carried by the tide beneath it into the incoming ship’s path, and it was cut in half. Oceanic cut into it like a knife through warm butter. Sixteen people aboard the Chester died, despite valiant efforts to save them.
Found Below the Bridge
Researchers can only imagine the new excitement that comes to every traveler dreaming of new beginnings. This joy was infused in the hearts of the ship’s passengers as they neared the bridge, just minutes before the accidental collision that also killed two children.
More than 120 years after that tragic accident, some remains of the sliced-up ship still rest approximately 400 feet below the Golden Gate Bridge. A ghost ship existing in another dimension, this wreck is invisible to the traffic cruising above it. The next famous discovery was the S.S. City of Rio de Janeiro.
Steamship City of Rio de Janeiro
Early voyagers relied so much on human ability and rudimentary senses capable only of giving approximations when crossing vast oceans or narrow channels. They were highly vulnerable to errors, as the crew of the S.S. City of Rio de Janeiro discovered when they were painfully close to their destination.
Without modern equipment, entry into San Francisco had so many hidden hazards. The fog was dense, an outbound ship could be on a collision course, and the undercurrent and strong winds could be wild even when there wasn’t a storm raging.
The Deadliest Shipwreck
The crew of the City of Rio de Janeiro thought they had all that covered as they sailed cautiously, coming in from Hong Kong, carrying Chinese immigrants dreaming of a new life in a burgeoning city, of new jobs and profits to be made.
The ship fell prey to a sharp reef that cut through its belly like knives, killing 135 people who were so full of hope just moments ago. This remains the deadliest shipwreck in the history of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Thanks to the modern equipment available to NOAA experts, a digitized image of the steamship’s deathbed was generated in glaring color. For the first time after hundreds of years, the site doesn’t look so ghastly at all, and it’s now fairly easy to locate.
Another discovery close to Southeast Farallon Island made researchers pause in disbelief. Though they had uncovered many shipwrecks, these ancient vessels had nothing on this latest find. In October 2015, after further investigation, they confirmed its identity as the U.S.S. Conestoga.
The U.S.S. Conestoga
World War I was fought by more than thirty participating countries and the U.S.S. Conestoga, 170 feet in length, was a busy bee for the U.S. Navy. It was assigned many times as an escort to large convoys, and it generally transported guns and ammunition.
It was small but followed its role to the hilt until it mysteriously vanished along with 56 passengers on its way to Samoa in 1921. Despite an extensive search and rescue mission, the vessel was never to be found nor heard of again.
The only vestige found of the U.S.S. Conestoga, after it departed from Mare Island in California, was its lifeboat. The forlorn little boat was found listlessly floating in the open sea. A hundred years since its mysterious disappearance, the original members of its search and rescue teams have now long since passed on themselves. So, the NOAA researchers were lucky to stumble upon it.
This makes us wonder how many more secrets are still submerged, waiting for inadvertent sonar beams to echo back up the telling contours of buried historical treasures. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait another hundred years for the answer.