Brooklyn Bridge. 132 years. Part 2

The first part of the story is here
Brooklyn Bridge is the first bridge ever built between Brooklyn and Manhattan. At the time it was finished in May 1883, it was famous for being the biggest bridge in the world - stretching almost 1600 feet across the East River.
But it was not always the name of this  bridge.     Residents originally referred to it as the New York bridge or  even the East River Bridge. In 1867, a letter to the editor of a local newspaper called it the Brooklyn Bridge and the name stuck. Eventually, in 1915, the city government made the name official and in 1964, it was designated a National Historic Landmark.


The bridge’s construction took 14 years, involved 600 workers and cost $15 million (more than $320 million in today’s dollars). The two stone 276-feet-tall towers were the tallest structures in New York, except for Trinity Church’s spire.
On May 24, 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was opened to the public.   Schools and businesses were closed for the whole day in Brooklyn, while Manhattan had a half-holiday . Thousands watched and cheered the ceremony and procession. For New York, the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge had much deeper significance than transportation. It bonded the cities of Manhattan and Brooklyn together.


During the first week the bridge opened, masses of people used the bridge.  On Thursday, May 31 the bridge was very crowded.  According to various accounts, someone shouted that the bridge was collapsing, and caused the panic. Another story went that there were pickpockets in the crowds and a woman screamed and fell. The loud noise frightened everyone into believing the bridge was falling.


The commotion sparked a chain reaction of confusion, as more and more people panicked and mobbed the narrow staircase, creating a massive pileup. By the time it was all cleared up, twelve people had been trampled to death.  Though the earliest news reports claimed only 35 suffered injuries, it was most likely over a hundred.


A year later, On May 17, 1884, to put down doubts of the bridge’s stability , circus maestro Phineas T. Barnum paraded his  20 elephants across the structure to demonstrate to the public that it was safe. At the head of the parade was Jumbo, the most  famous elephant in the history.
In the early 1880s, with the focus on his traveling circus, Barnum purchased a huge African elephant named Jumbo from the London Zoo. The elephant was a beloved creature in England, and its fame preceded it to America.   Jumbo got his name from his keepers at the London Zoo.  Thanks to Barnum's promotion, the word "jumbo" entered the English language and today we have everything from "jumbo drinks" to "jumbo jets." In  1885 Jumbo was hit by the train and died. The skeletal remains are in the collection of N.Y. American Museum of Natural History.


The  bridge-trains started running in September 1884. The trip across on the bridge-train took five minutes and cost 5 cents. The trains were two 300 horsepower steam engines. By 1885 the bridge-trains had carried over 20 million passengers. In 1944 the elevated trains stopped running and the old iron terminals were pulled down.

The initial charge to make the Brooklyn Bridge crossing was one penny to cross by foot, 5 cents for a horse and rider to cross and 10 cents for a horse and wagon. The price charged for farm animals were 5 cents per cow and 2 cents per hog or sheep.


 Brooklyn Bridge has inspired a remarkable number of   poems. The Russian Futurist Vladimir Mayakovsky was moved when he first saw it in 1925, as he described in his poem "Brooklyn Bridge:"
...it stretches on cables of string
 t
o the feet of the stars.
I stare
 as an eskimo gapes at a train,
 I seize on it
 as a tick fastens to an ear.
 Brooklyn Bridge--
 yes....
 That's quite a thing!

In 1956, the beat poet Jack Kerouac celebrated the bridge in another visionary poem  called "The Brooklyn Bridge Blues":

I looked at the red winter
 disgusting dusk of the world,
 saw the alleys beyond,
 Brooklyn, Wolfe's redbrick jungle


 Frank Sinatra sang:
Like the folks you meet on
 Like to plant my feet on the Brooklyn bridge
 What a lovely view from
 Heaven looks at you from the Brooklyn bridge.



There are several hidden vaults inside the bridge. Below the ramps that lead up to the anchorages on both sides of the Brooklyn Bridge are vaults, once rented out as wine and champagne storage.  The alcohol was kept in stable temperatures throughout the year and the rent helped offset the cost of the bridge. The New York Times reported that city records show that the “‘Luyties Brothers’ paid $5,000 for wine storage in a vault on the Manhattan side. ‘A. Smith & Company’ paid $500 a year from 1901 until 1909 for a vault on the Brooklyn side.”  Unfortunately, these vaults no longer store wines, but rather house maintenance materials.

In 2006 city workers were conducting a regular structural inspection of the bridge when they came across the cold-war-era hoard of water drums, medical supplies, paper blankets, drugs and calorie-packed crackers — an estimated 352,000 of them, sealed in dozens of watertight metal canisters and, it seems, still edible.  Boxes with blanket were labeled “For Use Only After Enemy Attack.”
Several historians said  that the find was exceptional, in part because many of the cardboard boxes of supplies were ink-stamped with two especially significant years in cold-war history: 1957, when the Soviets launched the Sputnik satellite, and 1962, when the Cuban missile crisis seemed to bring the world to the precipice of nuclear destruction.  The shelter was located in one of the masonry foundations of the bridge on the Manhattan side.


Brooklyn Bridge charged horse-drawn carriages a toll from the time it opened. But by the Depression, the tolls were a thing of the past. There is no toll in either direction on the Brooklyn Bridge now.


Perhaps because of the bridge's size the Brooklyn Bridge has become well known for the amount of people that jumped off of it, either for publicity-seeking fame or to take their own lives. Today, the Brooklyn Bridge has more suicides than any of the other bridges in the city, including the George Washington and Verrazano-Narrows, which are actually much higher from the water.


It would be almost two years after the bridge's opening that the first jump would be made. Swimming instructor  Robert E. Odlum  made a public announcement that he would jump on May 19, 1885, two years after the bridge was opened. Odlum, dress in a bright red swimsuit,   leapt from the bridge with one arm at his side and the other pointing in the air. He died a half-hour later from his injuries. Authorities do not keep track of suicide attempts (successful or not) from New York City's bridges, so the actual number is not known. 


The bridge was  the scene of a mass exodus from the city on September 11, 2001, as downtown workers fled the terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center. My twins were among them-they were second years students at Pace Univercity and had classes at that day.  The bridge was  closed off to all traffic for several weeks after the attacks, with the exception of emergency vehicles.


The Brooklyn Bridge has appeared in several films over the years. It  is destroyed by a tidal wave in Deep Impact (1998) and is shown briefly in Independence Day (1996) right before an alien ship destroys the city (and presumably the bridge).


Today more than 120,000 vehicles, 4,000 pedestrians and 3,100 bicyclists cross the Brooklyn Bridge every day.  There is a pedestrian walkway with a bike lane that rises above the traffic.  At just over a mile long, this is one of the most scenic routes to take for views of both boroughs.  The skyline seen through the rays of cable are iconic.