Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Bridge Collapse That Didn't Happen


Yesterday's collapse of the 1-35 bridge in Minneapolis calls to mind an unusual local tragedy which occurred here in 1883, in which 12 people were killed in the collapse of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Except of course, the Bridge didn't actually collapse.

On May 23, 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge opened to terrific fanfare, with almost 14,000 people invited to cross this monstrosity which had sat in their harbor under construction for years. The experience of crossing for the first time -- to experience the sprawling city from a vantage in the harbor and at equal height of the tallest buildings of the time -- must have been immense. And rather frightening.

One week later, on May 30th (Memorial Day that year), the path was still clogged with curiosity seekers. A woman fell on the stairs walking up on the Manhattan side, and her friend screamed.  Just this unnerving act alone created a rumor that the new bridge was about to collapse, that it couldn't take the weight of all these people.

Panic ensued and people stampeded in every means possible to escape off the bridge. I feel the editorial from old newspaper the Brooklyn Daily Eagle says it best:

"Two men tried to raise the prostrate woman and were instantly trampled and paid forfeit with their lives. In a few seconds human beings were piled four deep at the foot of the steps, and the crowd was hurried over them."

In the bloody tussle, 12 people died and over 36 were seriously injured.

Add the 27 fatalities that occurred during the actual construction of the bridge, and you can definitely say that the Brooklyn Bridge got off to a very morbid start.

By the way, Gothamist takes a look at the current condition of the Brooklyn, and other bridges.

1 comment: