Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge, a feat of immigrant labor and groundbreaking technology, changed the face of New York City forever. It also almost never happened. From OnBoard Tours’ stop at the South Street Seaport the majestic bridge can be seen in all its glory.

After preliminary reluctance upon the part of Manhattan authorities (some sources say it took significant bribes for them to agree), the Bridge Company turned to John August Roebling. Roebling was a German immigrant who, in his work on canals, had invented a wire cable that had already helped the rail lines to stretch over America’s vast number of rivers. His plan was to build a suspension bridge—one that would be the longest in the world—supported by two massive stone towers, which themselves would then be the largest constructions the North American continent had ever seen, at least until then.

With the engineer secured and the money ready, construction was ready to begin in the summer of 1869. Then he first tragedy struck. In a freak accident, John Roebling’s foot was crushed. Contemporary physicians could do nothing to save him and within weeks he was dead. Luckily, Roebling’s son, Washington, had joined the family business of building bridges. He assumed the mantle of leadership and construction soon began.

The construction itself was fraught with tragedy. Twenty workers died in its construction, mainly because no one understood at that time the disease called today “the bends.” This illness, due to the rapid pressure changes the men underwent traveling to such depths below the water, could have been easily preventable, but at that time was a great mystery. The workers became so frightened of the disease they struck for better pay. While Roebling would not agree to pay them the three dollars they asked for, he did stop the digging earlier than planned, on the mere chance that they had dug deep enough to secure a sturdy base. Washington Roebling himself fell ill, and supervised the completion of the bridge through letters he sent from European spas and New Jersey.

The Brooklyn Bridge was opened on May 24, 1883, to grand celebrations. However, a week later twelve pedestrians died in a mob that had grown panic-stricken over a belief the bridge was about to collapse. Thankfully, Roebling’s chancy guessing had paid off and the bridge was secure. P. T. Barnum proved its stability his own way by crossing twenty-one elephants across the bridge in 1884.

Today the Brooklyn Bridge is still a vital link between Brooklyn and Manhattan. Its beauty and majesty have inspired artists, and its magnificent views of the city make a walk across its span well worth it. The entrance to the Manhattan side is across Park Row from City Hall.

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Article Copyright 2005 by New York Party Shuttle.

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