May 30, 1883: A rumor causes a stampede which kills at least twelve. The New York and Brooklyn Bridge, aka the East River Bridge, opened on May 24, 1883. The event was witnessed by thousands on land and in ships in the water below. President Chester Arthur and Mayor Franklin Edson crossed the bridge as celebratory cannons were fired. They were met on the other side by Brooklyn Mayor Seth Low. On the first day of the bridge’s life 1,800 vehicles and 150,300 people crossed what was then the only land passage between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Emily Warren Roebling was the first to cross the bridge whose main span over the East River measures 1,595.5 feet. The bridge cost $15.5 million ($380 million today) to build and at least 27 people died building it.
Less than one week later, a rumor began stating the bridge was unstable and would collapse. People scrambled to get off the bridge and in doing so, at least 12 people were crushed to death. The rumor proved to be false and yet doubts lingered. On May 17, 1884, the greatest showman on Earth, PT Barnum proved the bridge’s stability with one of his famous publicity stunts. He brought his circus across the bridge and included in that parade was Jumbo leading a trail of 21 elephants across it. Jumbo was the largest elephant in captivity and weight a whopping 13,000 pounds and stood just over 13 feet high. Even with this much traffic, the bridge remained intact.
At the time of its opening and for several more years, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, which helped to perpetuate the rumor. It was half again as long as any suspension bridge ever built. At the time of construction, aerodynamics was not part of the engineering process and bridges were not tested in wind tunnels until the 1950s after the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed. It is by luck then and not be design that the open truss structure supporting the deck is less susceptible to these types of problems. It was so designed because John Augustus Roebling made it to be six times as strong as he thought it would need to be by using this method. Roebling suffered an injury while surveying the site for the Brooklyn side tower and died before completing the bridge. His son (Washington) and daughter-in-law (Emily – the first to cross the bridge) continued the project.
Because of the sturdy construction (rumors aside) it is one of the few bridges built during this era which remains standing today. Elevated trains used the bridge until 1944 and streetcars until 1950. Today it is six lanes of roadway maintained by the New York City Department of Transportation. It spans the river 276.5 feet above mean high water mark and has a 135 foot clearance. The suspension/cable-stay hybrid bridge is 132 years old. There is no toll to cross and 123,781 vehicles (as of 2008) take advantage of the shortcut. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and National Historic Civil Engineering landmark in 1972.
I would rather be the man who bought the Brooklyn Bridge than the man who sold it. – Will Rogers
You can find your way across this country using burger joint the way a navigatior uses stars…. We have munched Bridge burgers in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge and Cable burgers hard by the Golden Gate, Dixie burgers in the sunny South and Yankee Doodle burgers in the North…. We had a Capitol Burger – guess where. And so help us, in the inner courtyard of the Pentagon, a Penta burger. – Charles Kuralt
Everyone should walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I did it three days in a row because it was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had. The view is breathtaking. – Seann William Scott
I remember perfectly my first trip to New York, when I was on the bridge between Brooklyn and Manhattan, when I saw the skyscrapers. It was like an incredible dream. – Diego Della Valle
Also on this day: Start Your Engines – In 1911, the first Indianapolis 500 was held.
Chinese Democracy – In 1989, the Goddess of Democracy was unveiled
Fan Club – In 1933, Sally Rand danced in Chicago.
Duel – In 1806, Charles Dickenson was killed in a duel.
Pearl’s Perils – In 1899, Pearl Hart robbed a stagecoach.
* “Brooklyn Bridge Postdlf” by Postdlf at the English language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Bridge_Postdlf.jpg#/media/File:Brooklyn_Bridge_Postdlf.jpg