Brooklyn Bridge - Bridging Boroughs For 130 Years

Written By Shwetha Ravishankar | May 24, 2013
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The iconic Brooklyn Bridge built over the East River, completed on May 24, 1883, is celebrating its 130th birthday today. Back in the day, New Yorkers woke up to a day of jubilation, as thousands gathered to watch the unveiling of one of the first and longest steel suspension bridges of its time. Opening Night 1883 - Postcard

Vibrant fireworks and the sounds of happy New Yorker’s resonated the skies of Manhattan, for the first time as residents of the two boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn could cross over with ease. The numbers adding up to the making of this architectural marvel sure made for an eye-popper - 14 years, 600 workers and $15 million. 

At the time the Brooklyn Bridge was completed, while everyone seemed to believe in the structures strength, one person named P.T. Barnum, decided to prove this for real. On May 17th, 1884, at 9:30 a.m., like the true showman he was, he led the grand march of 21 elephants and 17 camels from the foot of Cortlandt Street to walk across the bridge. The superstar of the show was one of Barnum’s favorite giant African elephants, who thumped his foot with his majestic stride as onlookers watched with baited breath. The bridge survived the walk and the city celebrated in sheer amazement and joy.

With so much history behind this landmark, here is a snippet of some fascinating facts:

  • Completed in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was originally the brainchild of the popular architect at the time, John Augustus Roebling. But as fate had it, he was killed in the days following a freak accident while taking readings on the East River. It was further taken over by his son Washington Roebling, who was among hundreds of other working on the bridge who were affected by the “caissons disease” which paralyzed him and eventually the bridge was completed under the watchful eye of his wife Emily Roebling.
  • Emily Roebling was one of the first people to cross the bridge with a rooster on her lap, for good luck.
  • As a ceremonial symbol the mayor of New York and the then president of the United States - Chester A. Arthur, walked the span of the bridge, the same route thousands of New Yorkers tread on every single day. 
  • The inaugural day saw 250,000 people walk across the bridge
  • The Brooklyn Bridge was iconic in bringing together and connecting the then separate cities of Brooklyn and Manhattan
  • It was not until 1898 that Brooklyn was officially merged with New York City
  • Completion of the Brooklyn Bridge opened new avenues for trade and commerce by connecting the island city of New York not only by ferry but by road as well.
  • On its centennial celebrations held in 1983, President Ronald Reagan led a cavalcade of cars across the bridge, the bridge was lit by fireworks, and the Brooklyn Museum put up a display of select original drawings by the architect Washington Roebling himself.
  • In 1993, Thierry Devaux, illegally performed eight acrobatic bungee jumps close to the Brooklyn Pier.
  • Its 125th anniversary celebrations were kicked off by historical tours, a bicycle tour of Brooklyn, a miniature golf course featuring Brooklyn’s icons, fireworks, and a film series among others.

Original Drawings of Brooklyn BridgeWorkmen on the BridgeTerminal in 1909

Over the years, Brooklyn Bridge has undoubtedly become one of the most popular landmarks for the hundreds of thousands of tourists visiting the city each year. For resident New Yorkers, the bridge is their spot for an evening run, a weekend walk, or simply a path they take to get to the other side. Though the bridge comes with its annoyances, like cyclists dealing with tourists in their lane, busy looking up to the sky or posing for a picture; drivers backed up endlessly in the traffic, and whistling winds on a bad weather day - it still remains and will always be a structure that has stood strong and tall, towering over the East River, offering great views of both boroughs.

Cheers to many many more years.

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