THE breathtaking Brooklyn Bridge got off to a rocky start.
The structure spans over the East River connecting the cities of New York and Brooklyn. It was opened in May, 1883 – the birthday of Queen Victoria.
Some Irish residents failed in their attempt get the opening day put off because it was Queen Victoria’s birthday, with the Board responsible for the inauguration of the structure were “not being intimidated” by the protests.
President Chester Alan Arthur cut the ribbon on what was the largest and longest suspension bridge in the world.
“Flags were displayed everywhere. The route taken by the processions of the authorities who went through the formal ceremonial was crowded hundreds of thousands of spectators,” reported the Standard, adding “No such festivities have been witnessed here since the Centennial year.”
A fireworks display on that day was described as the grandest ever seen the United States. There were military parades, speeches, and formal addresses on behalf of the two cities declaring the bridge open.
For Brooklyn the new bridge meant the prospect of immense expansion and the increase of her commercial importance while the middle classes of New York looked to being relieved from the ‘oppressive rents’ from which they were subjected.
As is usual in the building of great structures, the operation took longer and cost more than was anticipated. Instead of being carried out in five years, it actually took 15-years to build and instead costing ten million dollars, including land, its expense was fifteen and half million dollars. The chief cause of the extended time was the difficulty of finding proper foundations.
News media reported that the ‘heaviest vehicles are permitted to drive any speed’. The engineers themselves said they were astonished at the solidity of the structure and it became clearer every day that the effect upon the two cities would be beyond what was expected.
However, a week after opening, tragedy struck when twelve people were killed and twenty-six injured during the panic on the bridge after an immense crowd reacted to a cry that was raised that the structure was giving way. Panic ensued and in a stampede many were trampled under foot.
Despite that episode – and rumours that the structure was unsafe – scenes at the bridge ‘continued to be very remarkable’ – with tens of thousands of people crossing daily. Over 83,000,000 passengers passed over the bridge during the year, of which more than 80,000,000 were railway passengers.
FEELING THE STRAIN
By the turn of the 20th Century the bridge was in a poor state of repair and in 1901 seven suspension rods snapped, owing to the strain on the structure being too heavy, and to insufficient painting, which caused rust. Signs of decay were worse by 1905 with engineers recommending the adoption of plans entailing the virtual reconstruction of the entire structure.
Events on the bridge were covered extensively by the media – there were suicides, daredevils jumping into the water (many losing their lives in the process) and a fair amount of accidents and small incidents like in 1906 when giant icicles, which had formed the wire cables, fell to the ground injuring several people.
The bridge is a National Historic Landmark and a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
WHERE: You can take the 2 or 3 train to Park Place, the N or R train to City Hall, or the A or C train to Fulton Street.
This article was taken from the History Buffs Guide to New York by Mark Jones, which is available at Amazon