On the afternoon of June 6, 1956, Louis “Big Louie” Stepman and three other workers were stringing a catwalk from the north tower of the Mackinac Bridge. The catwalk – a bundle of chain link fencing to be strung on steel cables from the north tower to the south tower – would provide a temporary walking surface for workers installing the cables that held up the bridge’s roadway. The bundles of chain link were folded like an accordion in 100-foot sections. As the four men readied a bundle at 552 feet above the Straits of Mackinac, it snapped free and began a rapid descent down the cables.
One man’s ankle caught in one of the folds, pinning him in place on top of the fencing. His ankle had been crushed, but he was alive. The other three workers were jolted and fell from their narrow platform. Two men fell to their death, but Stepman fell 70 feet before he grabbed hold of the wire mesh and held on as it raced down the cable. It slowed when it reached the bottom arc. Dangling 400 feet above the water, Stepman thought about dropping to the water and taking his chances. Instead, he climbed 70 vertical feet up the wire mesh to safety.
Three other men lost their lives building the Mackinac Bridge. The names of all five men are remembered in a bronze plaque at the foot of the bridge in Mackinaw City.
Source : “They Paid the Highest Price”, Absolute Michigan.
For more information, see “50 Years of the Mighty Mac”, Michigan History, July/August 2007.