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  • Writer's pictureAlbert C

A Fun History of New York’s Bridges and Tunnels - The Brooklyn Bridge

People marvel at New York City and consider it one of the great cities of the world for a variety of reasons. Broadway. Wall Street. Fashion. Publishing. Tourism. Whatever your business, New York is often a leader. But as you travel around the city, you might not notice, though you will use, one of the most visible yet invisible signs of its greatness. The network of bridges and tunnels that connect Manhattan Island to the rest of the state and the region were each and every one of them feats of engineering and determination when built, and today they continue to serve more than a million people each day.

THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE Completed in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it opened. It was also one of the first steel-wire suspension bridge, which means instead of a single chain (would have been impossibly heavy to pull through) or rope (nobody gonna trust that rope not to break, right?), the cable sheath is filled with multiple steel wires. This way, if one wire snaps, the whole bridge is not at risk. Which is why, although it is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the US, the Brooklyn Bridge is still sound and carries more than 120,000 cars and trucks, 3,000 bicycles, and 4,000 pedestrians every day.

PANIC AND PACHYDERMS ON THE BRIDGE We are so used to driving over bridges and through tunnels without a second thought that it is hard to remember how people felt when they were new. Three days after it opened, a rumor started that the bridge was going to collapse. Maybe it was caused by the fact that suspension bridges sway a bit. Whatever the reason, people stampeded to get off the bridge, causing injuries to many and killing at least 12. Doubts lingered and a year later, P.T. Barnum did his part to dismiss those doubts with a publicity stunt where the famous elephant, Jumbo, led a 21-pachyderm parade over the bridge.

GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE One of the bridge anchorages is built on the site of the first Presidential Mansion. New York was the US capital for the first two years of the Union, and George Washington moved in with his family right after the inauguration. All that remains of this notable moment in American history is a plaque attached to the anchorage.

JUMPERS Not even a year after the Brooklyn Bridge opened, another use was found for the span beyond its intended use. The height and the unpopulated water below made it "safe: and secluded place for suicide jumpers. Barriers were eventually built to make that jump virtually impossible to attempt. However, a little over a hundred years after that first jump, bungee jumpers “performed” by going over the side illegally and being hauled back up with electric winches.

HEY MISTER, YOU WANNA BUY A BRIDGE? The Brooklyn Bridge cost a staggering (for the times) $15.5 million to build. People could easily swallow a story that the city had gone bankrupt building it needed to sell shares in the bridge to remain solvent. Con artists sold people “shares” in the bridge, promising they would receive a percentage of all the tolls collected. No surprise when these “investors” showed up at City Hall to collect their due, they found out that their papers were worthless.

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