The Brooklyn Bridge opened 131 years ago this weekend; on May 24, 1883 to be exact.
After the East River froze over in 1867, forcing traffic between the cities of Manhattan and Brooklyn to a halt, the much-discussed need for an “East River Bridge” linking the two became a reality when a charter authorizing its construction was passed in Albany.
Designed by famed civil engineer John Roebling, the actual building of the Bridge was left to his son Washington when Roebling Sr. died from tetanus after an injury sustained while conducting surveys for the yet-to-be-built Bridge.
A year later Washington, himself, was incapacitated by the effects of what we now call “the bends,” incurred by the deep dives he had been making to inspect the foundations of the Bridge, also known as caissons. Washington survived, but was unable to visit the Bridge site ever again, doomed to watch its progress from the bedroom window of his home on Columbia Heights in Brooklyn Heights.
For the next 13 years daily oversight of the actual building of the Bridge — arguably the greatest construction job ever undertaken in the history of New York City (if you think New York real estate is a tough business now, imagine for a second what it was like in the era of Tammany) — was left to his wife Emily Roebling. Thank you Emily.
Let’s say that again: Thank you Emily Roebling.
The Bridge’s opening was such a colossal event — at that time very few people had ever been higher than the second or third story of a house — the entire city practically shut down for the festivities, which included an hourlong fireworks display. In 1969 when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon an elderly woman told a New York paper that while it was all very exciting, it was “nothing compared to the day they opened the Brooklyn Bridge.”
So alien was the idea of crossing the Bridge that six days after it opened a rumor circulated among the crowds on the walkway that the structure was about to collapse, quickly prompting a stampede that killed 12 people. A year later, in a genius promotional move, circus master P.T. Barnum marched 21 elephants, seven camels and 10 dromedaries across it to prove the Bridge’s sturdiness. “To people who looked up from the river at the big arch of electric lights it seemed as if Noah’s Ark were emptying itself over on Long Island,” wrote the New York Times, at the time.
I walk across the Brooklyn Bridge on an average of once every single day; a fact people who follow me on Instagram are familiar with because I take a lot of pictures either of the Bridge or on the Bridge while I am doing so. 125 Instagrams over the last 27 months, to be exact.
But doesn’t that get monotonous, you say? Can a masterpiece ever be monotonous, I say. No.
Here they are.
Glynnis MacNicol is a writer and co-founder of TheLi.st. She idolizes the Brooklyn Bridge all out of proportion. Eh uh, no, make that, Instagrams it all out of proportion.