ST. IGNACE, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – Mechanical issues led to this year’s annual Labor Day Mackinac Bridge walk to go on without the 30’ x 60’ flag hanging from the north tower of Michigan’s Mackinac Bridge.
According to a Facebook post by Aaron Thompson, the cousin of Joe Shampine, the maintenance supervisor on the bridge, the flag, which is usually rolled up and brought down to hang during designated holidays, had been unrolled and rerolled back up a few weeks ago and that led to the cam on the mechanism breaking which bent the shaft.
Julie Neph, Mackinac Bridge Authority Chief Bridge Engineer, confirmed with Michigan News Source that there was a mechanical issue and they are in the process of fixing it. She also pointed to the fact that there were windy conditions today during the walk.
In addition to Labor Day, the large flag, which is so big it can be seen on the bridge’s webcams, is also displayed on Memorial Day, Flag Day, Labor Day, Patriots Day (9/11) and Veterans Day.
2019 was the first year the flag was rolled up and down through a new remote-controlled reel system which was designed by MBA Maintenance Supervisor Ned McLennan to make raising the flag easier and also protect it when it’s not being used. Before that, it took about a dozen staff to hoist it up as well as stopping traffic. It is rolled up according to the flag code and only takes one person now to operate the system using a switch.
It was July 4th, 2019 when they first used the new reel system on a public holiday. McLennan and MBA master machinist Bill Fitzpatrick had been working on the project and Fitzpatrick said, “It seemed like it was never going to happen; it was one hurdle after another” and when it finally was successful, he said he jumped around a little bit and couldn’t have been happier. You can watch how the reel system works at the MDOT video here.
McLennan’s mom, a seamstress helped with the project too. Her son asked her to reinforce the bottom of the flag. Patti O’Brien said, “I was really excited to be a part of it. I think I jumped around a little bit when he called and asked and I said, ‘yeah, I would love that.’ It’s such an honor to be a part of this. I really am impressed with the work that was done in this project and fee that it’s very special.”
According to photos and live streams of this year’s Labor Day walk, there were no flag replacements used on the bridge or a back-up plan put in place for Old Glory to be represented on the bridge but there were flags flying on poles at the end of the bridge. The pedestrians who walk the bridge aren’t allowed to bring their own flags according to the rules on the website.
On the recommendation of the Michigan State Police and U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the bridge was closed to public traffic on Labor Day during the walk from 6:30 a.m. to noon, with the exception of emergency vehicles. Thousands of walkers were expected at the walk. 21,000 participated in the 2021 event.
Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer did not attend today’s walk like she has in the past. Instead, Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist lead the annual bridge walk. He put out a statement that said, “It was an honor to represent the state of Michigan at the 65th annual Mackinac Bridge walk. This Labor Day, I am proud to celebrate the dedicated union laborers who build the Mackinac Bridge and united our two peninsulas. Governor Whitmer and I will continue standing tall for working people in Michigan and ensure they are treated with dignity and respect.”