Family reveals Mackinac Bridge construction photos

Henry Zeman
Henry Zeman is seen in an old photo. (Dec. 12, 2017)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Never-before-seen photos taken by a West Michigan photographer show the historic Mackinac Bridge during the early days of its construction.

Former Grand Rapids Press and freelance photographer Henry Zeman captured the images, which were made public Thursday.

His wife Bernice Zeman says her late husband was 12 years old when he got his first camera. His passion for photography never waned and it became his profession. Bernice Zeman said her husband’s patience served him well in the field.

“He could wait for a long time before he got the exact shot that he wanted,” she remembered.

Henry Zeman took hundreds of photos during the Mackinac Bridge’s 3-year construction process.

After Henry Zeman died, his son Paul Zeman decided he wanted to update the film left behind. The film is in color, a rare find for photos from the 1950s. It’s what make the bridge photos unique.

“I wasn’t sure what to do with them,” Paul Zeman said. “My daughter had recently graduated from CMU in kind of an integrated public relations and multimedia journalism degree and was very good with that type of thing.”

The Zemans were hoping to release the restored photos on the anniversary of the bridge’s opening, but they missed it. Instead, Paul Zeman’s daughter Jackie Zeman created a video of the restored photos and posted them online Thursday morning.

“I’m a little flabbergasted that we’re sitting here today,” Paul Zeman said. “Because we missed the November timeframe, we said, hey, Grandpa Hank had passed away, my father passed away two years ago today — today would be a great day to release it.”

“We want him to have recognition,” he continued. “It’s certainly not about us. This is about my father’s work. This was his life passion. And this is something that means a lot to the people of Michigan.”