By Paul Wein
It turns out that the 2, 3, 4, 5, A through Z and probably every other train that could have got me home this evening was not going into Brooklyn because of a fire – big surprise – and how unexpected that it should happen at the height of rush hour. So after I cursed the MTA for the grillionth time since I first rode the iron horse, I decided to weigh my options. I could wait for the fire to be extinguished – which would probably take hours – or I could find another way home – I opted for the latter.
Considering the fact that there were no trains going into Brooklyn, there was only one other option – I could walk to Brooklyn – across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Granted, the thought of walking from one borough to another on a hot August evening after a long days work was not exactly my idea of an easy commute, but what other choice did I have? So I walked to the neighborhood cigar store, grabbed a Cohiba Robusto – and made my trek across the most famous bridge in the world for the first time on foot.
As I began to walk across the bridge, I recalled all of the history that went into making this famous landmark. When you drive across the bridge – something I have done countless times – you don’t get the chance to admire the bridge for what it is. But when you walk across her – she tells a lot of stories.
As I reached the first of the bridges two towers, I read the plaque that was put there when the bridge was built, honoring the Roebling Family, the masterminds behind the bridge. I recalled that the monarch of the family John Roebling, was a German immigrant who had perfected a method of producing the strongest cables ever manufactured. When he submitted a proposal to the New York Bridge Company, a private corporation searching for a bridge to build, he wrote:
“The contemplated work, when constructed in accordance with my design, will not only be the greatest bridge in existence, but it will be the greatest engineering work of this continent, and of the age. Its most conspicuous features, the towers, will serve as landmarks to the adjoining cities, and they will be entitled to be ranked as national monuments.”
He was right.
The bridge itself is a true masterpiece. The stone towers of the Brooklyn Bridge stand 1,595 feet and six inches apart, making it, at the time of its opening, the longest suspension bridge in the world – something I did not need to know as I was walking across her.
The crowds of people that walked both with me toward Brooklyn and against me toward Manhattan, reminded me of another little known yet interesting fact in the bridge’s history. One week after its opening, a crowd panicked when someone shouted, “The bridge is falling!” At least twelve people were trampled to death and another thirty-five were injured when people tried desperately to get off the bridge before it fell. Hearing that people feared the bridge’s collapse, legendary circus owner P.T. Barnum wanted to prove the strength of the newly built bridge. To prove it, he walked his entire herd of twenty-one circus elephants including his most famous, Jumbo, across the bridge – needless to say – the bridge passed the endurance test. Being one of the people walking across the bridge – that was a welcome fact.
After I began reminiscing and observed the people that joined me in the trek across the bridge – I saw people from all walks of life doing a variety of different things. One woman was painting, a young couple was falling in love on the bench, and some people were taking pictures – and me without my camera.
As I made it to the Brooklyn side of the bridge with the same name as my destination, I remembered that after Barnum’s reassurance of the bridge’s safety, many Brooklynites of the time thought the newly acquired access to Manhattan Island would leave Brooklyn a “ghost town.” – hardly. Instead, The Brooklyn Bridge served Brooklynites then and now as the major artery between the two boroughs – and it came in pretty handy for me today.
Maybe the trains breaking down isn’t such a bad thing after all.