The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge

The time and temperature clock reminds me that it's -3c and 12:30pm, meaning I've spent two hours this morning finishing this book from my 16th floor perch overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. I've watched the looming towers reflect sunrise, obscured by fog, back-lit by sunset, dusted by snow, busy with traffic. I've walked across from Brooklyn into the pulsing beast of Manhattan, and the reverse. I suspect my three speed cruiser bike is not meant to mingle with the high speed bikers shooting across the wooden slats of the walk, but mostly I fear biking in island traffic. This location has been a terrific place to wrap up this book, itself an in-depth and fascinating exploration of the fourteen years it took to build the bridge.

Washington Roebling, chief engineer, remains the hero of the story, inheriting his father's plans for the bridge but making daily changes and solutions to problems. Emily Roebling emerges as a strong stand-in for her husband after he is severely incapacitated by the bends, or the caisson disease, named after the bridge building (coming up too quickly from pressurized air). The team of assistant engineers that remain fiercely loyal to Roebling without defecting from the project also deserves mention: C.C. Martin, E.F. Farrington, Hildenbrand, McNulty, Paine.

The villains of the story are the politicians and the fraudsters: Boss Tweed's blatant skimming of money from the project, J. Lloyd Haigh's provisioning of faulty wire, and the myriad of politicians attempting to oust Roebling from his role as Chief Engineer on grounds of his sickness. "Honest John" Kelly withholding New York's scheduled payment for its costs of the bridge stopped work in August 1878, for which the bridge company took the city of New York to court. Various ferry companies and businesses along the waterline collected to attempt to halt the work, many years into its construction.

It's a story that we know the ending to; the bridge is successfully built, and lasts for a good fifty years after opening before any work is needed to upgrade it. The opening day was a holiday in Brooklyn, and most of NYC gathered at the water to watch the ceremonies and fireworks. President Arthur marches across from the New York side, meeting the Brooklyn dignitaries at the Brooklyn tower. At midnight on May 24, 1883, the bridge opened to everyone. Tickets cost $0.05 for the train and carriages, $0.01 for pedestrians.

Footnote: Should I be happy with only one typo in 500+ pages? p 488, President Arthur is wearing a white "tie", I assume, and not a "white tic".

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This page contains a single entry by lz published on February 5, 2013 9:40 AM.

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