Toward the end of 2020, I wrote the date down in my calendar on a whim. August 14. An exercise in hopefulness. Surely we could be back in the city by then, right?
In the meantime, I was making no travel plans, just nursing my homesickness for NYC with my nose in a book – David McCullough’s The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge. 608 pages long, and all you could possibly want or need to know about wire cable and shady New York politics.
What stayed with me the most, however, was the courage and perseverance that brought the project to fruition. There was crusty John Roebling, who, in 1867, conceived the design of the Brooklyn Bridge and, sadly, perished as a result of contracting tetanus after an accident on the project in 1869.
His son, Washington Roebling, stoically shepherded the project onward, despite almost insurmountable challenges and life-long crippling health issues subsequent to suffering “the bends” during a fire that broke out in the enormous caissons that would anchor the bridge on each side of the East River.
Many doubted that the bridge would ever be built. Which made August 14, 1876 a day to remember. It was the day the first two cables were strung between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridge towers.
Nearly two weeks later, on August 25, in another burst of courage, Master Mechanic E. F. Farrington was the first person to cross the bridge. Suspended from those first wires connecting the towers, Farrington was seated on a board tied to the cables like a swing, and with upwards of ten thousand people gathered to watch, he had the best view in town during the twenty-two minutes it took him to cross to the other side. At one point, he tipped his hat to the crowd below.
I wonder if anyone is gathering at the bridge today, or will on the 25th. If so, I can only tip my hat at them in solidarity from California, because we still haven’t been back. Fingers crossed – although I know I must be mindful that plans in the time of COVID seem to go awry. Here’s hoping to be there soon – and on the (very long) to-do list is a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Can’t wait to be back in the city!