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|Also known as:||The Great East River Bridge|
Rivaled in cultural stature only by California's Golden Gate Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge is a miracle of architecture built at a time when bigger was better. The span was born out of necessity. While the unified burghs that formed Kings County on the east side of the East River were a formidable presence, up-and-coming Manhattan Island was the place to be. Its more favorable location in New York Harbor was turning it into the center of the young nation's commerce.
As early as 1802 pleas were made to the state legislature to come up with a better way to cross the river. The Brooklyn Bridge was almost not built. In the 1830's it was thought that six-lane tunnel would be a better option. This was bypassed, but resurrected years later in what is now the Brooklyn-Battery tunnel. The East River is much narrower and shallower than its parent to the west, the Hudson River. In winter, it would freeze easily making the journey between Brooklyn and New York City perilous and time-consuming. In fact, during the winter of 1866-1867 it was joked that people from Albany could get to New York faster than people from Brooklyn.
The idea of a bridge didn't get serious consideration until the 1857. The New York Bridge Company was formed to complete the task. It tapped John Roebling to head up the project. He had an idea to build the world's longest suspension bridge. But before his theories could be put into practice, he had to test them. He built several mini-Brooklyn Bridges to see if his design would work. One is in Cincinnati, Ohio spanning the Ohio River. It appeared that stone Neo-Gothic towers supported by caissons holding up a two pairs of 15 3/4 inch wire ropes and a lacework of steel cable would be practical, so he gave it a go.
The steel cables were the key to the projects success, but also proved deadly. One failed during construction, killing two men. There was a scandal surrounding the cable company, and a probe was launched. The contractor was convicted of fraud. This was not the first, nor the last death during bridge construction, but New York Bridge did not keep an official death toll. Estimates range from 20 to as high as 50. There was an explosion, a fire that burned for weeks, people were crushed by stone, caught in machinery, fell into the water, and the most dreaded of all -- came down with caisson disease. Today we know it as "the bends" and almost every worker who toiled beneath the surface of the water constructing the bridge's massive caissons was at risk. Roebling's own son, Washington, was stricken by Caisson Disease and could no longer perform heavy labor. However, he was still instrumental in the bridge's completion.
Washington Roebling took over leadership of the project from his bed when his father died during construction. John was standing on a group of pilings at Fulton Ferry watching the project's progress when a ferry slammed into a fender which abutted the timbers he was perched on. The shifting wood crushed his right foot. Roebling's toes had to be amputated, but he refused further medical attention and died a short time later, becoming yet another victim of the Bridge.
While Roebling was given a dignified funeral, others were not so lucky. Some bodies have never been recovered from the site, and there is a persistent urban legend that states there are a number of bodies entombed inside the bridge's caissons The opening of the bridge was a huge affair. Businesses on both sides of the river let their workers off to attend the celebrations.
The bridge officially opened to the public at 2:00pm on May 24, 1883. The party continued into the night with a fireworks celebration. John Roebling originally envisioned the anchorages could be used as public space. This happened at first, when the Brooklyn anchorage hosted a farmer's market. But it was later closed off. The spaces have been used for municipal storage, wine storage, military storage, and only recently reopened as a location for the arts.
The testimony to the miracle that is the Brooklyn Bridge isn't so much in its enduring psychological footprint, but it's enduring physical presence. More than a hundred years after it opened, the bridge is still one of the strongest in the world. It still has its original original towers, its original main beams, its original main cables, and much of its original structural skeleton.
- Total length: 3,455.5 feet
- Main span length: 1,595.5 feet
- Brooklyn Tower height: 320 feet (44 beneath the riverbed resting on bedrock)
- Manhattan Tower height: 354 feet (78 feet below the riverbed resting on sand)
- 1870: Construction begins
- May 24, 1883 - The Brooklyn Bridge opens.
- May, 1883 - One week after the bridge opens, a pedestrian stampede on the bridge kills 12 people. The bridge was too new and different for people to understand, and many were afraid of its cables. The sight and sound of them moving spooked the crowd like a herd of cattle.
- 1944 - The last elevated train crosses the Brooklyn Bridge.
- 1950 - The last streetcar crosses the Brooklyn Bridge.
- 19 June, 2003 - An al-Qaida terrorist pleads guilty to conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism. Among his projects was coming up with a way to cut the cables that hold the Brooklyn Bridge aloft. He told his commanders in Pakistan that it would not be possible because of tight security.
- 2006 - The U.S. Department of Transportation lists the Brooklyn Bridge as "structurally deficient". But inspectors are quick to point out that the rating isn't about the span, itself, but about the bridge's approach ramps which are from the 1950's and 1960's, and not part of the original structure.
- June, 2008: Artist Olafur Eliasson installs an illuminated waterfall underneath the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge. Water cascades into the river along the width of the bridge.
- Don't believe any figure that says how many feet the bridge deck is over the river. The actual number varies with the tide and the amount of water coming down the Hudson River.
- The Bridge towers are made of stone quarried in Hallowell, Maine.
- The Brooklyn Bridge carries 144,000 motorized vehicles a day, plus 1,115 bicycles, and 2000 people (1998 figures).
- The bridge was originally painted red. The color came from the mines in Rawlins, Wyoming.
"The great towers ... will be ranked as national monuments. As a work of art, and a successful specimen of advanced bridge engineering, this structure will forever testify to the energy, enterprise, and wealth of that community which shall secure its erection."
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