Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Brooklyn Bridge

The bridge looking from Manhattan.

The Brooklyn-side arch.
Construction of the bridge being covered in the April 28, 1883 edition of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper.
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is a very popular New York City tradition that I decided to take upon myself recently.  I had done it a number of times in the past, the first times while living near it in Brooklyn Heights in the summer of 2003.  One can walk across any of the bridges that go across the East River, but the Brooklyn Bridge is the nice one.  I walked across the Manhattan Bridge once a couple of years ago, and the small path that ran along all the rumbling trains going back and forth was not a very serene experience.  But the walking path that runs above vehicular traffic and below two of the most recognizable arches in the world has made it easy and pleasant for the pedestrian to walk from Manhattan to Brooklyn and back again. 

The bridge was designed by prominent 19th-century German suspension-bridge designer John Augustus Roebling, who suffered an injury when his foot was crushed by an incoming ferry.  His toes had to be amputated, but not even this prevented his wounds from getting infected and leading him to become bed-ridden and die shortly thereafter.  His son Washington oversaw the completion of the bridge, but also soon suffered from caisson disease, making it unable for him to supervise construction first-hand.  His wife Emily then took over, and helped deliver important messages from the engineers to her bed-ridden husband.  Despite some doubt that it would ever happen, the bridge opened on May 24, 1883, when U.S. President Chester A. Arthur and New York Mayor Franklin Edison walked across the bridge to greet Brooklyn Mayor Seth Lowe at the Brooklyn-side tower.  Six days later, a panic occurred that killed six people when a rumor started to spread that the bridge was going to collapse, but P.T. Barnum squelched all rumors of the bridge's instability when he led a parade across it with Jumbo, one of his most prized attractions, and twenty-one other elephants. 

I first walked across the bridge when I was living in the Brooklyn Heights area almost nine years ago.  The old wooden beams of the walkway are a little off-setting at first since you can see down to the speeding cars below, but they are pretty sturdy, as proven from the millions of people who walk from Manhattan to Brooklyn and back again each year.  It's those bicyclists you need to look out for!  Whether your on bike or on foot, just be sure to stay in your lane and check out this staple of New York City tradition.

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