July 22 • 10:14 AM

A bird's eye view

Almont man gets rare visit to top of the 'Mighty Mac'

Ed Spicuzza
September 05, 2007
ALMONT TWP. — Ed Spicuzza is always on a journey. Whether it's on his 1999 Harley Davidson Heritage Springer motorcycle or the mighty steamers and motorized ships that traverse the Great Lakes during the long sailing season.

It's a 'Nautical Journey,' one that spawned some pretty remarkable things: a name for his art, photography, videography business and a trip to the top of the Mighty Mac—the Mackinac Bridge.

As a sailor he's passed under the bridge hundreds of times in his 15 year career. In time for the bridge's 50th anniversary, Spicuzza gets an idea that leads to the top.

"It's a view nobody ever sees," he says. "And I wanted to bring that view to people."

The plan

Spicuzza starts making some phone calls in July—whenever 'American Victory,' the ship he's sailing on—is within cell phone range.

A good friend, Tom Farnquist—the executive director of the Whitefish Point Shipwreck Museum and Historical Society in Sault St. Marie—puts Spicuzza in touch with Corey Atkins from a television news station in Traverse City.

"Corey and I spoke several times," Spicuzza says. "We got familiar with each other."

Atkins likes Spicuzza's idea and realizes that he is serious about it. So Atkins gives him Bob Sweeny's telephone number. Bob Sweeny just happens to be the executive director/secretary of the Mackinaw bridge.

"I introduced myself over the phone and we spoke for about a half hour," Spicuzza says. "I told him what I do for a living and what I had in mind and asked if it was possible."

What Spicuzza has in mind is to shoot footage at the top of the bridge to include in his independent film 'A Stern View,' for distribution to Maritime and Great Lakes museums. His ultimate goal is to donate copies of the DVD so the museums can sell them and use the proceeds for various projects.

"On a ship I see things on the Great Lakes every day that most people don't see from the beach," he says. "I want to put those in the public view."

Sweeny thinks Spicuzza's goal is admirable and tells him to call again once he's on land. Spicuzza does so.

The invitation

Once off the boat, Spicuzza follows up with Sweeny. He doesn't want to keep hounding him, but he wants to make sure Sweeny knows his desire to film atop the Mackinac Bridge is more than just a passing fancy.

Spicuzza’s journey wrapped up with a surprising view of the ship he’s been sailing on for years passing under the Mighty Mac.

"So I called him again and he invited me up for 9 a.m. on Monday," Spicuzza says. "I was elated."

On Aug. 20 Spicuzza, his pal Farnquist and their 'tour guide' Dan, a bridge maintenance employee, find themselves at the base of the stanchion south tower Pier 19 of the bridge.

An upward journey

Right away, Spicuzza knows getting to the top will be no easy task.

"You wouldn't believe the size of the opening we had to climb through," the sturdy 6'1" Spicuzza grins. "And after squeezing through the small opening with the gear and all, we end up at a tiny, tiny elevator about half-way up the stanchion."

Spicuzza, who readily admits he's claustrophobic, lets his companions squeeze into the miniature lift first. He grits his teeth, jams himself in and off they go. Yet another adventure awaits.

The elevator only goes so high. After that, it's a slow, steady climb on a narrow ladder inside the stanchion.

"We peel ourself out of the elevator and work our way up through the stanchion which is right over I-75," Spicuzza says."It is like being inside a steel tomb. One thing I can say is the bridge is immaculate. It's so well maintained, it looks like it was just painted yesterday. For a 50 year old bridge, it's beautiful."

Once the group makes it to the top there's yet another munchkin-sized manhole for the men to squeeze through.

"It's like the size of a wall clock," Spicuzza grins.

Dan pops through first. Spicuzza follows, his equipment tied to a rope.

"When I saw the view for the first time, I was at a loss for words," he says. "It is one of the most spectacular, breath-taking views I have ever seen. I got the chills."

Spicuzza, so caught up in the moment, suddenly remembers his buddy Tom is still trapped—so to speak—in the skinny steel tube.

"I realize that Tom is completely in the dark because I'm blocking up all the light," Spicuzza laughs. "There I was and Tom's below thinking 'move, move' but I wanted to take in the first moment as long as possible."

On top of the world

Spicuzza sets up his equipment and doesn't stop shooting until it's time to go back down. It's very windy, brisk—he says—with one to two foot whitecaps gleaming in the sunlight down below.

"I have just one regret," he says wistfully. "I wanted to pack a sandwich to say I had lunch on top of the Mackinac Bridge but I forgot to.

"It's amazing," he grins. "I never forget food."

Though he's thrilled with his photos and with the experience, Spicuzza still hasn't gotten enough of the Mighty Mac. He rents a plane on Tuesday and flies overhead for more photos. He gets yet another unforgettable moment.

"The ship I'd been sailing on for the past four years was going under the bridge at the same time I was flying over," he says. "That's how this adventure ends up! It's unbelievable."

The journey continues

Spicuzza hopes to wrap up his hour-long feature film by June 2008. Set to music, the video isn't a documentary, it's more like a scenic journey for the senses. He hopes to include icy winter scenes that are ever-changing.

"A freighter coming down the water with what it's amassed from Lake Superior during the winter is different every single day," he says. "It's something you can never repeat. It's beautiful."

He also plans to delve into other relaxation video projects which include sunsets and sunrises, waterfalls and waves, and clouds and fireplaces.

He's working on a book, and continuing to create glass and mirror etchings.

For more information about Spicuzza and his work, visit the Web site

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