The Quick 10: 10 Tales From the Brooklyn Bridge
We're used to seeing the iconic suspension bridge on the skyline now, but when she opened 127 years ago, the world had never seen anything like the Brooklyn Bridge. From Jumbo and jumpers to stampedes and sellers, it's had quite the history. Here are just a few of the fascinating stories about the world's first steel-wire suspension bridge.
1. "The New York and Brooklyn Bridge" may be accurate, but it's quite a mouthful, don't you think? That was the bridge's official name when the project was first dreamed up, but an 1867 letter to the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle referred to the bridge by the name we know today, and it stuck. The name change wasn't officially recognized by the government until 1915, though.
2. Is there a Brooklyn Bridge curse? If your last name is Roebling you probably think so. The Roeblings - John, his son Washington, and Washington's wife Emily - were the builders of the bridge. The first to succumb to "Roebling's Curse," as the workers called it, was John. While doing some surveying for the project, the elder Roebling's foot was crushed against a piling by a ferry. The toes had to be amputated and then he contracted a terrible tetanus infection from the injury and died. Shortly after Washington took the helm, he was paralyzed by decompression sickness, better known as The Bends. Many underwater workers suffered from this because its cause wasn't really understood at the time. That's when Washington's wife, Emily, took over. Emily was essential in completing the bridge and at the time, bestowing the title of "Chief Engineer" to a woman was unheard of. Although Emily managed to escape the curse, that doesn't necessarily mean it was lifted...
3. Just after the bridge opened in 1883, rumor and panic struck pedestrians on the bridge when word circulated that it was going to collapse. As you can imagine, people stampeded to get off of the allegedly doomed structure and ended up crushing each other in the process. At least 12 people died, with the New York Times reporting,
"The first rescuers to reach the spot found the dead and dying wedged together in the narrow spaces as if they had been fastened in a vise. So tightly were they packed and squeezed that from dozens of persons blood was oozing from ears and noses. The bodies were piled four or five deep at the foot of the stairway."
And it was all completely needless - the bridge was perfectly sound.
4. Ever the publicity hound, P.T. Barnum saw an opportunity to promote his business while proving that there was nothing wrong with the Brooklyn Bridge. A year after the stampede, Barnum led a 21-elephant parade with Jumbo, his famous 6.5-ton elephant, as the mascot. His theory was that if the bridge could easily hold Jumbo and his pals, the bridge could easily hold as many pedestrians as New York could throw at it. Barnum originally offered Jumbo to open the bridge the previous year and was turned down.
5. The Brooklyn Bridge, sadly, is no stranger to jumpers. Robert Odlum was the first. He jumped from the bridge on May 19, 1885, apparently intending it to be a stunt and not a suicide, but it ended up being the latter.
6. In 2006, Department of Transportation workers were doing some basic maintenance work when they discovered quite the surprise on the third floor of a space inside of the bridge's base - a bunch of supplies that indicated the space was being used as a Cold War Bunker. One of the containers was marked, "To be opened after attack by the enemy." Other discoveries included food, water and medical supplies. Workers speculate that it may have been a bunker for the mayor. You can read more about it at CNN.com.
7. Despite the fact that the Brooklyn Bridge has never been for sale, people have successfully sold it. It's one of the biggest scams of all time - in fact, "you could sell him the Brooklyn Bridge" is now a metaphor for a gullible person. We think the person who originated the scam was George C. Parker, who claimed he sometimes sold the Brooklyn Bridge up to twice a week. Some of the buyers even tried to set up tolls before police stopped them and informed them they had been had. Parker also posed as Ulysses S. Grant's grandson and "sold" Grant's Tomb. He eventually received life in prison.
8. On its opening day, 1,800 vehicles and 150,300 people crossed the bridge.
9. It cost a paltry $15.1 million to build, and $3.8 million of that was land. Although this seems like a pretty decent estimate to a build a bridge of that size by today's standards, it was ridiculously exorbitant at the time and far exceeded the $7 million budget.
10. Howard Hughes did a fly-by of the Brooklyn Bridge when he was trying to fly around the world in
four days. He succeeded by the way - it took him just three days and 19 hours.