Bridge across erasJul 5th, 2009 | By editor | Category: Lifestyle, Travel
Long before the Chrysler or the Empire State buildings were a glint in the sun, and even before the Statue of Liberty was unveiled, a marvel of modern of engineering became Big Apple’s most enduring and appealing landmark. The Brooklyn Bridge.
Fittingly on its 126th birthday, New York City celebrated it in style. The festivities were marked by awesome illumination of the entire Bridge, Grucci fireworks, music concerts, a continuing film series, enlightening lectures and readings, dance performances, guided tours, children- and other family-friendly cultural events.
A long time ago, visiting the Whitney Museum of Modern Art, I was stopped by Joseph Stella’s intriguing abstract art Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old theme (1939). That haunting image stayed with me for long. Coincidentally on another evening, we were atop the 110-storey wonder, at the Windows of the World restaurant, and saw the steel suspension masterpiece from another angle. The illuminated Brooklyn Bridge lay diagonally, a sleek dazzling looping jewel on a stretch of shimmering water. And up in the sky, a giant moon smiled over that remarkable Victorian engineering feat.
Many moons later, back in the island-city, we stood on the Bridge’s pedestrian wooded walkway. Below, in a timeless dance, vessels big and small — ships, water taxis, cruise boats and yachts — moved on the iridescent East River. Around us, scores of snap-happy tourists, sinewy cyclists and groups of lively, boisterous students went by. Across, unperturbed by recent happenings, Ayn Rand’s dream city was getting a make-over. A vibrant new streetscape with distinctive structures and cultural institutions and a newly restored street grid was up and going. In the bewildering winds of change, the historic Brooklyn Bridge stood firm and strong, its old elegance and relevance in tact.
The Brooklyn Bridge, the oldest and longest suspension bridge in the world and along with its two stately 275-foot stone towers, is often dubbed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”. It is a 1,825 meters steel-wire engineering marvel that links Manhattan with Brooklyn. On it, on an average 145, 000 people drive, walk or bike every day. For long it has been one of the city’s most popular, recognisable and photogenic sights.
And yet it is more than just a national landmark.
The bridge, right from its early construction days, has had its share of star-crossed encounters. In a book, The Bridge, Dorothy Landers Beall details many such incidents and in one stunning moment of remorse, gives the structure the grim sobriquet, “the horrible steel thing”.
The “steel thing” is often seen as a tribute to “one woman’s determination and spirit”. At a time when American women were still struggling for voting rights, equality, etc., and when everywhere they were asked to “do more, and talk less”, a spirited Ms. Emily Warren Roebling did exactly what pleased her in the full glare of public gaze. She was “wife, mother, lecturer, student, world traveller, and clubwoman” who, by chance, became “the first woman field engineer”, and a pioneering example of independence.
Emily’s brilliant engineer father-in-law, John Augustus Roebling designed the bridge. But during the construction, a series of mishaps occurred including his death due to tetanus. Emily’s husband, Col. Washington, who was familiar with his father’s bridge construction projects, took over. However, while working on the giant granite anchorages that were being built in caissons or watertight chambers, he was hit by a debilitating disease that paralysed him.
With that the onus fell on Emily to complete the Bridge. The intelligent lady was familiar with the nuances of “strength of materials, stress analysis, cable construction, and in calculating catenary curves” — things she learned from her father-in-law, brother and husband. Then with Washington directing her, often with “spyglass” trained out of the window, Emily communicated with the project team, and with the regulatory authorities, to bring the project to completion. When the bridge finally opened in the spring of 1883, it saw the most “exuberant public celebration of the era”. As thousands of citizens noisily cheered and the paparazzi was out in full force with their new fangled photography half-tone engraving process, US President Chester Arthur along with demure Emily grandly lead the first ceremonial ride across the bridge.
Today, as a symbol of the Roebling’s legacy and honour to this amazing woman, the bridge proudly credits her on a plaque: “Back of every great work we can find the self-sacrificing devotion of a woman.”
There are inexpensive and reliable transport options. Make sure to avoid the rush hour. There are several educational and entertaining organised tours. Former Mayor Giulani has made the place relatively safe to explore by foot. Out-of-towners though need to be alert, carry street maps, and preferably move in groups. To reach the Bridge take the subway J, M, Z to Chambers Street or 4, 5, 6 to Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall. From the metro station, a few minutes’ walk takes you to the Pace University/Manhattan end of the Bridge’s pedestrian footpath. If you have problems finding the entrance, look for signages and helpful cops.
NYC related tourism: http://www.iloveny.com/home.aspx
Walking tour schedules, tariffs: http://newyorktalksandwalks.com
Subway information: www.mta.info