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Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn BridgeBrooklyn Bridge

An enduring New York icon, the Brooklyn Bridge is undoubtedly the most poignant vista in the five boroughs--a magnificent achievement of nineteenth century engineering, a symbol of that era's rapid, pre-skyscraper, growth, of the uneasy but everlasting brotherhood of rival boroughs, muse to poets and painters alike, a Gothic symbol austere to the point of urban holiness. The imposing stone-and-steel structure was conceived by Prussian-born engineer John A. Roebling (who invented the steel cable)...

An enduring New York icon, the Brooklyn Bridge is undoubtedly the most poignant vista in the five boroughs--a magnificent achievement of nineteenth century engineering, a symbol of that era's rapid, pre-skyscraper, growth, of the uneasy but everlasting brotherhood of rival boroughs, muse to poets and painters alike, a Gothic symbol austere to the point of urban holiness. The imposing stone-and-steel structure was conceived by Prussian-born engineer John A. Roebling (who invented the steel cable) as early as 1855, but his plan to join the then-distinct cities of New York and Brooklyn with something more permanent than ferry service was met, at first, with indifference. The project was picked up by Brooklynites after the Civil War as a way to tether their city's fortunes to the much more rapidly expanding city to the west. The plan, submitted by Roebling to the publisher of Brooklyn's Eagle newspaper, called for two massive stone towers and the unprecedented use of steel cables from which to suspend the roadway, which would stretch for nearly sixteen hundred feet. At the time of its construction, the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest bridge in the world, and, perhaps even more remarkable, stood more than seven times the height of any nearby building. Imagine a bridge built, nowadays, to be seven times the height of the Empire State building, and you begin to sense the scale of the engineering achievement embodied by the Brooklyn Bridge, and the boundless faith New Yorkers then had in the relentless growth of their future city. The bridge, built nearly forty years before the automobile appeared on the American scene, has nevertheless proven to be more than big enough, more than sturdy enough, to handle the constant and intense commuter traffic of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Construction began in 1867, but suffered a huge setback when, two years later, Roebling was killed in a ferry accident on the Brooklyn side of the site, and the visionary project lost its visionary. Roebling was replaced, in a dynastic move, by his son, Washington. While helping excavate the riverbed on the Manhattan side, Washington succumbed to a case of the bends, which partially paralyzed him for the rest of his life. For the remainder of the project, Washington Roebling supervised the project, with the help of a telescope, from his apartment, while his wife, Emily Roebling, functioned as the on-site manager. After many financial setbacks, construction was finally completed in 1883, when an opening ceremony featured the mayors of both Brooklyn and Manhattan (whose union, twelve years later, the construction of the Bridge virtually guaranteed), Governor Grover Cleveland, and President Chester A. Arthur. A week later, a baseless panic swept pedestrians baptizing the bridge with a stroll; shouts that the bridge was threatening to collapse caused a massive stampede and the deaths of twelve civilians. Today, though the bridge has been converted, of course, to accommodate automobiles, the pedestrian walkway remains the most charming such crossing in the city, a creaky wooden boardwalk, offering unparalleled views of lower Manhattan, dotted with benches for skyline-gazing.

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Brooklyn Bridge
New York City, NY 11201
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Travelgoaters at Brooklyn Bridge
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Zach Aarons
November 6, 2009
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Zach Aarons
November 6, 2009
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