The Brooklyn Bridge is much more than just a means of transportation between boroughs. (Credit: mtnorton via Flickr (CC BY-SA))
'I have a bridge to sell you...'
The popular phrase used today to express gullibility dates back to an actual practice from the early days of the Brooklyn Bridge. As ridiculous as it seems, con artists were able to convince people to "buy" the Brooklyn Bridge on a number of occasions.
One man in particular, George C. Parker, claimed to have sold the bridge twice a week for decades. Parker forged documents proclaiming him the owner of the Brooklyn Bridge and beguiled unsuspecting immigrants, tourists and wannabe entrepreneurs with stories of the great fortune they could make off of tolls. A few were stopped by police while trying to erect toll booths on their new "purchase," and Parker eventually landed in prison.
The woman who saved the bridge
With John dead and Washington bedridden, the great task of finishing the Brooklyn Bridge was passed to an unlikely candidate for the 19th century-- a woman.
Emily Warren Roebling, wife of Washington, was already well-versed in the business of bridges thanks to her husband, but she started her duties simply as a messenger, relaying Washington's orders to his staff. Before long, however, Emily was the face of the Brooklyn Bridge, taking on everything from inspections to contracting to publicity. Before the bridge even opened, she was the first to ride all the way across it.
Today, there is a plaque on the bridge in Emily's honor that reads, "Back of every great work we can find the self-sacrificing devotion of a woman." (Credit: Rebecca Wilson via Flickr (CC BY-SA); Roebling Museum)
Credit: Barnum Museum
In order to quell fears about crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, circus man P.T. Barnum was called upon in 1884 to lead a parade of animals from Brooklyn to Manhattan, including Jumbo the 7-ton elephant, star of "The Greatest Show on Earth," and about 20 of his elephant peers. Most of the thousands of New Yorkers who showed up to watch the spectacle felt comforted that if the bridge could hold Jumbo, it was safe for them, too.
Credit: AFP / Getty Images
The Cold War time capsule
City workers were routinely inspecting the Brooklyn Bridge in March 2006 when they came across something unexpected-- a dusty vault filled to the brim with military provisions, hoarded during the Cold War and later forgotten.
Medical supplies, water drums, blankets and about 352,000 crackers were found, and, according to New York Times, the crackers were sealed so carefully, they were likely still edible. Boxes were marked with two significant years-- 1957, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, and 1962, the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Credit: Brooklyn Museum
A fateful winter
Your commute to work last winter was nothing compared to 1867.
The weather was so frigid that the East River completely froze over, preventing ferries from carrying Brooklyn commuters into Manhattan. That was the sixth time on record that this happened in the 1800s, and it was the final straw-- as Brooklynites were forced to take a perilous walk over the frozen river to work, it was decided that a bridge must be built once and for all.
A penny for your troubles
While today's elderly love to tell stories of one cent movie tickets and riding the bus for a nickel, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge was actually more expensive in the 1800s than it is today.
Taking in the skyline views on a stroll across the bridge is one of our rare free pleasures, but it cost a penny to walk across, a nickel to ride a horse and a dime to ride a horse and wagon until these tolls were repealed in 1891 and 1911.
In 2002, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was apparently short on ideas when he summoned wannabe terrorist Iyman Faris to take down the Brooklyn Bridge... by cutting each of its support cables.
The only problem? On top of this plan's physical hurdles (it would take a whole lot more than Faris bargained for to dismantle those cables), the New York Police Department monitors the bridge 24/7. Faris called off the plot as soon as he arrived, but was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2003.
Credit: The New York Times
Starting off on the wrong foot
When the Brooklyn Bridge was still new, New Yorkers were apprehensive about walking over it, to say the least. When the heel of a woman's shoe got caught in one of the planks less than a week after it opened, on May 30, 1883, her screams set off a stampede. Those around her assumed the bridge was falling and panicked. The rush to get off killed 12 people and injured about three times that.
Credit: Roebling Museum
The Roebling curse
The Brooklyn Bridge wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for the Roebling family, but, as they say, fame comes with a price. The undertaking proved to be deadly for both John A. Roebling and, eventually, his son, Washington Roebling. The elder Roebling, a suspension bridge pioneer, spent years dreaming up a design for the "Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge," as he called it at the time. Construction was only in the preliminary stages, however, when he got his foot stuck by the side of a dock and crushed by a boat while surveying the area. His toes were amputated, and he died of tetanus.
Luckily, the next Roebling in line was also a skilled engineer, although he would go on to be one of more than 100 bridge workers to catch caisson disease, a type of decompression sickness that came from the dangerous process of digging into the East River while inside chambers filled with compressed air. Resurfacing from these chambers too quickly left many paralyzed, and Washington's health continued to deteriorate until he could merely watch the bridge being built from his bedroom window.
Credit: Creative Time
The shopping arcade
When he designed the Brooklyn Bridge, Roebling created beautifully vaulted, brick rooms with nearly 50-foot ceilings inside the base of the bridge.
Located on the Brooklyn side at Cadman Plaza West, Roebling envisioned the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage as a bustling shopping arcade. It was used for recreational purposes, particularly art installations, but was closed after Sept. 11, 2001 due to safety concerns and has never been re-opened.
Credit: Museum of the City of New York
The champagne cellars
Near the Anchorage, yet another secret lies below the Brooklyn Bridge-- and the most spirited one, at that.
Temperate, cave-like structures once served as giant champagne and wine cellars, rented to business owners to help counteract the expenses of building the bridge.
The New York Times reported that in 1901, liquor company the Luyties Brothers rented a vault on the Manhattan side for $5,000, while A. Smith & Company paid $500 a year until 1909 for storage on the Brooklyn side. The Luyties Brothers had an existing wine business in the same location before the bridge was constructed.
Credit: Getty Images / Henny Ray Abrams
A lasting legacy
Now the oldest NYC bridge open to passengers or vehicles and a National Historic Landmark, the Brooklyn Bridge is the iconic backdrop of many a New York celebration.
More than 120,000 vehicles, 4,000 pedestrians and 3,100 bicyclists cross it every day, according to the Department of Transportation.