We could go all Bob Caro on the Brooklyn Bridge and dedicate our entire life to telling its story, but for now we're going to present you with this list of interesting and weird and fun and tragic incidents that took place on the structure in the late 1800s. Why? On this day in 1883, the bridge officially opened, finally connecting what were two very different cities at the time (FYI: Brooklyn didn't become part of New York City until 1898).
- Before he became Governor of New York in 1918, Al Smith claimed he was the first boy to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. He lived on the Lower East Side at the time (near what are now called the Alfred Smith Houses), and before the bridge opened his father took him over the foot bridge—Racontours tells this story: "His whole life, Smith loved to brag about the night his father snuck him over the footbridge so that he would be the first boy to cross it. His mother said rosaries the entire time they were gone, and judging from this photo, it’s not hard to see why. Grown men were known to walk out a hundred yards, freeze up in terror, drop on all fours, and then crawl back terrified. But little Al never turned back." This was his view:
- Bridge mechanic E.F. Farrington crossed the bridge via zipline in 1876, a moment that was preserved in this wood engraving. Farrington was "testing the first span of wire cables," and it's said to have taken around 22 minutes to complete the cross.
- In 1882, Walter Donaldson was supposed to jump from the bridge "for sport," but once all of New York was watching and the winds began to blow, he decided against it. There's a pretty great article from the time recapping the whole ordeal right here.
- In 1884, P.T. Barnum reportedly took 21 elephants over the bridge to show how safe it was.
- In 1885, "Robert E. Odlum, a swimming instructor from Washington, D.C., became the first to leap into the East River below. He died, but a number of later jumpers survived, including one man allegedly trying to impress his girlfriend."
- The most famous jump was probably Steve Brodie, which got him on the winning side of a $200 bet, landed him in the Tombs, and got his story told in The NY Times:
- The first suicide on the bridge may have been in 1892, when Franis McCarey jumped off the structure and died. In The Great Bridge, David McCullough writes, "he ought to be considered the first suicide."
- And perhaps in the most unique jump, one man strapped on "immense canvas wings" before stepping off the bridge—McCullough writes, "He sailed a thousand feet upstream before landing safely on the water."
Eventually, people were totally over jumping off the bridge for money or bragging rights. If you want more more more, we highly recommend The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge.