First Suspension Bridge Across the East River



"I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;

And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,--
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!

Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.

Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky's acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn . . .
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still."

--from Hart Crane's The Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge was designed by JOHN AUGUSTUS ROEBLING and built largely by German, Irish and Italian laborers. When completed in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world until the construction of another East River bridge, the Williamsburg Bridge, in 1903.  The bridge spans the East River and connects Manhattan to Brooklyn.  Mr. Roebling died during the bridge’s 13-year construction period.  His son, Washington, took over but became ill and viewed the completion of the bridge from his Brooklyn apartment in Columbia Heights.   Emily Roebling, the wife of John, was the first person to walk across the bridge on opening day.  P.T. Barnum also led 21 of his circus elephants across the bridge partially to illustrate the safety of the structure to the public.

The bridge is considered to be one of the seven industrial wonders of the modern world and has inspired artists such as Walt Whitman and Hart Crane's poem, “The Bridge."  Crane actually wrote part of his poem in the same apartment and same room where the bridge's builder, John Augustus Roebling, once lived.  For an exciting read, see The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge by David McCullough.  As a young man, author Frank Harris (My Life and Loves) worked as a sandhog on the Brooklyn Bridge.   

The steel-wire cables and one of the Brooklyn Bridge’s twin masonry support towers (photo 3) are photographed up-close on top of the bridge.  Each steel cable wire is composed of “3,515 miles of wire, galvanized with zinc.”