The One With the Brooklyn Bridge

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post about some of the places on my bucket list. V over at Lame Adventures commented that her wanderlust budget would only get her over the Brooklyn Bridge. (Inside NYC joke: the bridge is free!) Although it’s not a local secret, walking over the Brooklyn Bridge is one of my favorite things to do with out-of-town guests. It’s got fantastic views (especially at sunset), good exercise, no lines and iconic landmark all in one. And did I mention, it’s free?

Tomorrow marks the 131st anniversary of the bridge’s grand opening. So, I’ve put together photos I’ve taken over the years and some fun bridge facts. (As if there were any other kind of bridge facts!)

 

 

At 1,595 feet (486 meters), it was the world’s longest suspension bridge when it opened in 1883, and remained so until 1903 when the Williamsburg Bridge—just up the river—overtook it by about five feet.

The tall building in the middle of the photo is the new World Trade Center and the glass structure beneath it is Jane's Carousel.

The tall building in the middle of the photo is the new World Trade Center and the glass structure beneath it (on the Brooklyn side) is Jane’s Carousel. This is the East River.

 

 

On opening day, more than 150,000 people crossed what was then the only bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn. There were fireworks, the obligatory politicians (including President Chester Arthur and future president, then Governor Grover Cleveland) and marching bands to mark the occasion.

Brooklyn Bridge B-W

These web trusses are made of tightly wound steel coils which stabilize the roadway below — highly advanced engineering for the time period. They are one of the signature features of the bridge.

 

Today the bridge is open only to pedestrians and car traffic, though elevated trains and street cars ran over the bridge until 1944 and 1950 respectively.

 In this photo you can see the pedestrian path. The cars are on the lower level.

In this photo you can see the pedestrian path. The cars are on the lower level.

 

The bridge took 14 years and $15 million to complete.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

No fear of heights here!  It’s believed that between 20-30 men died while building the bridge.  Image via Wikimedia Commons

 

The behind-the-scenes story of how the bridge was built reads every bit like a page-turning novel.  German immigrant John Roebling was the original engineer on the project.  When he died from a tetanus infection early on, his son, Washington Roebling, a veteran of the Battle of Gettysburg, stepped in. A few years into the construction, the younger Roebling developed cassion disease, also known as the bends, after making a dive in the river to inspect the pylons. He was debilitated and had to oversee the rest of the construction from the window of his apartment a few blocks away. Each day he would give his wife, Emily, instructions on what needed to be done and she would go down to the bridge to relay the message. She had to learn engineering principles and terminology to handle the day-to-day chief engineer’s duties. Imagine a woman in 1870s telling a bunch of burly construction workers what to do.

A new film about the making of the Brooklyn Bridge is in pre-production starring Daniel Radcliffe as Washington Roebling.

Washington Roebling

Washington Roebling

Bridge under construction.

Bridge under construction, circa 1879. Image via Wikipedia Commons.

 

Between 17 and 20 pairs of peregrine falcons live in the NYC area, some of which make the Brooklyn Bridge towers their regular nesting site. These amazing birds of prey can cruise at 40 miles per hour and dive bomb up to 200 miles per hour. People walking small dogs across the bridge, take note!

See the falcon hanging out in the cut-out from the limestone blocks? These endangered birds are tagged and monitored by the wildlife commission.

See the falcon hanging out in the cut-out of the limestone blocks? These endangered birds are tagged and monitored by the wildlife commission.

 

This is looking from the Manhattan side into Brooklyn.

This is looking from the Manhattan side into Brooklyn.

 

What’s your favorite thing to do when you have guests in town? 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

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27 comments

  1. This is one of my favorite walks in the city! Great post! I had the good fortune to be living in NYC during the centennial celebration of the bridge. What fun!

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    1. Oh, that must have been a great time! I bet there were a lot of festivities and fireworks. I love watching the fireworks over the bridges. This year they’re moving the 4th of July fireworks back to the East River. Yay!

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  2. Every time I cross a bridge, I marvel at the engineering that went into it. Certain truss structures look like works of art (the relatively new Chesapeake & Delaware Canal Bridge is one of my favorite parts of the drive north to your area, especially at night).

    Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge recently went on my ever-growing bucket list. I’ll remember not to bring a small dog. Thanks for the heads up. 🙂

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    1. I don’t think I’ve had the opportunity to drive over the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal Bridge. I have driven over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which I think is lovely. The Cooper River Bridge in Charleston has a similar design. I’ve run a race over that bridge so I spent many foot-pounding minutes enjoying the architectural details while simultaneously wondering why I was torturing myself so. 🙂

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  3. Thanks for the shout out and the back story about this engineering marvel. You give good photos, too. I had no idea that a woman played such an important role in its construction. That’s great! I wonder what induced that gang of ten to perch all la-di-da on the web trusses? Were they just the great-grandfathers of latter day death-defying thrill seekers or paid their weight in spirits? I think I would sooner hang glide naked over an active volcano. You omitted two important fun facts: are dogs allowed and has the Reginator ever crossed it?

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    1. Crazy, right? No harnesses or supports of any kind! From what I read on Wikipedia this photo was taken in 1914. They were painting the bridge and taking a little break.

      I’ve seen plenty of dogs on the bridge. Some are jogging with their people. One fluff-ball of a dog was in someone’s bike basket, which looked like fun to me. The Reginator has not been on the bridge, though I wonder what he would make of those falcons if he ever saw them.

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  4. “20-30 men died.” That was so common back then. I love stories like this of the men who built the bridges and tunnels of our country. Who blasted their way through solid mountains to run train tracks, armed with nothing more than dynamite, shovels and sheer determination.

    Do you think we could do the same thing today? I doubt it.

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    1. Given all the complexities of building the first suspension bridge, I thought 14 years seemed like a reasonable amount of time. Then I learned that the Empire State Building was built in 18 months. 18 months!

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      1. That’s staggering. You see the old photos of guys sitting with their legs dangling off a girder eating their lunch, with no safety harness or anything and realize people used to be tougher.

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  5. Ooh. What wonderful history (and that photo of the men hanging on those cables gives me goosebumps). Go EMILY, telling those men what needed to be done each day! You know my favorite part of your post, of course: the peregrine falcons. How cool! My Bergenfield, NJ-born husband just loves this bridge, too.

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    1. Aren’t those falcons amazing? i wish I had a better photo. It’s rather odd to see them in such an urban setting, but I love that they’re there, and I love that they are aren’t being “chased away.” In fact they are monitored closely.
      I’m trying to get photos of the wild green parrots that fly through Brooklyn. That’s not so easy as they blend right into the trees. 🙂

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  6. Dude I remember having an exchange with V about things to do in town and she mentioned the Brooklyn Bridge. That’s a pretty cool post you did, I was completely tripping out on the those dudes hanging on the webbing. Duuuuuuuuuuude

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      1. Ha! That was a cool meeting. It was the first time I met a fellow blogger and what a choice, right? Susie was awesome. I don’t post pictures of myself on my blog ever, but when Susie asked me if she could take a pic with her I was like … it’s on! For you Wild Rider … post away 🙂 So it was cool seeing her and finally getting a chance to meet her, although I felt like I already knew her and she knew me and we were old pen pals 🙂 I guess blogging about your life will do that 🙂

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