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Brooklyn Bridge, New York, NY, USA (
The Brooklyn Bridge
This New York City structure is well known to people from around the world as a familiar landmark in the city's skyline, but most are unaware of the structure's dark and strange past. It officially opened in May 24, 1883 and was the longest suspension bridge in the world at that time (more than 50% the record). It crosses the East River, connecting the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan and is used by an average 145,000 cars per day and a couple thousand pedestrians. It has become such an iconic symbol for the city that it even has its own phrase: "
If you see the Brooklyn Bridge, you know you're looking at New York City.
" However, behind the appeal and allure, the bridge has been the scene of a strange encounter and several deaths over the years that date back to before the construction had even began.
Probably the first death associated with the Brooklyn Bridge is that of its designer, John Augustus Roebling. While scouting the location for the bridge's construction on July 6, 1869, Roebling's foot became lodged between a pylon and ferry, crushing it. Despite his bravery in refusing anesthetics for his crushed toes, Roebling would die only a few weeks later on July 22 from tetanus, contracted from his wounds. The accident would hardly be the last associated with the bridge in the thirteen years it took to construct.
Roebling's son William took over the construction of the bridge, but would also become one of its victims in the early summer of 1872. Roebling would contract caisson disease, which is similar to decompression sickness (or the bends), and was contracted when workers went from the compressed air of the caissons to the outside, non-compressed air. The disease would paralyze Roebling and he was forced to watch the construction from his bedroom in his nearby home through a spyglass - giving him the name "
the man in the window
" - and using his wife as a liaison with the workers.
Caisson disease was a common ailment of the men that worked on the Brooklyn Bridge and paralyzed more than just Roebling, but resulted in death for three others. Probably the most gruesome accident occurred in June of 1878 when a stressed cable snapped and decapitated one worker and knocked another off the anchorage. Blocks that were being swung into place crushed two additional men and another died when his leg got caught in a wire that was being pulled into a drum. Explosions, falls, and malfunctioning equipment also took its toll. In total, it is estimated that at least 27 men lost their lives during the construction, but that number may actually be quite higher since no records were kept of fatalities.
...the horrible steel thing.
-Dorothy Landers Beall, "
It is estimated that over 150,000 people and 1,800 automobiles crossed the bridge on its opening day of May 24, 1883. However, newspapers in the area began to openly question the bridge's stability, which may have had tragic circumstances less than one week later. On May 30, several people were on the bridge when a rumor spread through the crowd that the bridge was collapsing. The frantic masses began a stampede towards shore and it took over fifteen minutes for calm to be restored. In total, 12 people had been either trampled to death or pushed off the bridge and another 35 people had been injured. Newspaper accounts described survivors with their clothes torn off and others with blood pouring from their noses and ears from being jammed so tight.
The event did little to reassure a frightened public and tarnished the impressive new landmark of the city. It also did not go unnoticed by famed showman P.T. Barnum, who immediately devised a plan for a promotional spectacle that he declared was "
in the interest of the dear public
." On May 17, 1884, Barnum led 21 elephants (including the world-famous Jumbo), seven camels, and ten one-humped Arabian camels across the bridge to the cheers of a massive crowd; proving once and for all that the structure was safe and sound.
Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge,
I walked to the middle, jumped over the edge,
The water was greasy, the water was brown
Like cold chop suey in Chinatown,
And I gobbled it up as I sank down...
-William Jay Smith, "
" (Jump Rope Song)
Jumps from the Bridge
Perhaps because of the bridge's size or possibly its early notoriety, the Brooklyn Bridge has also become well known for the amount of people that jumped off of it, either for publicity-seeking fame or to take their own lives. Today, the Brooklyn Bridge has more suicides than any of the other bridges in the city, including the George Washington and Verrazano-Narrows, which are actually much higher from the water. In the early days though, the jumpers had much different motivations.
Fame-seeking daredevil jumps from the likes of Niagara Falls were something of a craze in the 1800s and it didn't take long before would-be jumpers started eyeing the Brooklyn Bridge, seeking the fame of being the first one to survive the plunge. In fact, it hadn't even been opened yet when Ronald Donaldson tried it not once, but three times but was stopped twice by construction workers and once by the wind. It would be almost two years after the bridge's opening that the first jump would be made.
The first actual jump would come in the form of a Washington D.C. swimming instructor, Robert E. Odlum, who went as far as to make a public announcement that he would jump on May 19, 1885. Given his public proclamation, police were well aware of his plans and were in place to stop it. Odlum had planned for this and sent a friend ahead, who drove quickly on to the bridge attracting the attention of the police, got out of his car and went through the motions as if he were to jump. Three cars behind him was Odlum, who also stopped and jumped out in a bright red swimsuit and then leapt from the bridge with one arm at his side and the other pointing in the air. He reportedly hit the water at an awkward angle and friends waiting in a boat below immediately summoned help. Odlum died a half-hour later from his injuries.
Probably the most famous jumper might not have been a jumper at all. On July 23, 1886, Steven Brodie was found in the river below and was quickly arrested for "
," despite the fact that was hardly his intent. Based on the story he told, newspapers quickly announced that he had survived the plunge. He became an instant star and the acclaim led him to become a fairly successful entrepreneur, but reporters and the general public alike began to question his claims. Friends of Brodie claimed to have witnessed the jump, but no one else could be found to back up their claims.
Regardless, Brodie's fame translated to a film in 1933, titled
, and even coined the phrase: "
Take (pull or do) a Brodie
," which now means to take a jump or fall (in boxing), to commit suicide by jumping, or to survive a suicide leap. It would actually be the second popular phrase to come from the bridge - perhaps overshadowed by the better known "
If you believe that, I can sell you the Brooklyn Bridge
" for gullible folks.
The newspaper accounts at the time greatly sensationalized Odlum's fatal jump and Brodie's supposed successful attempt, which led to many more people attempting it. Some made it while others didn't. The first case where the confirmed intent was suicide occurred in 1892, which served as ominous foreshadow of the future. By the turn of the century, the daredevil jumps had ceased for the most part, but the suicides were just beginning.
The Brooklyn Bridge Rescue Tour
Authorities do not keep track of suicide attempts (successful or not) from New York City's bridges, so the actual number is not known. Retired NYPD officer, Gary Gorman, estimates that 150 to 155 people threaten to jump from the bridge each year and he would know. Gorman served with the Emergency Services Unit for 12 years and was involved in rescuing over 35 people from this bridge alone. These days, Gorman leads a tour to the site where he walks tourists through the rescue efforts to thwart would-be jumpers. According to him, the emergency services response has a very high success rate (around 99%) in talking people down, though he notes that those that are really serious about ending their lives are usually gone by the time authorities arrive.
Gorman told the
New York Press
in 2002 that the hardest part of the job wasn't always dealing with the would-be jumper, but the crowds that would gather and egg the person into jumping. He reports that at other times, they successfully talk someone down only to find that someone else has stolen the person's car. According to him, 85% of the people he dealt with were males and the majority walked on to the bridge from the Manhattan side. For those interested in the
Brooklyn Bridge Rescue Tour
and/or Gorman's other tours, please visit the site below.
Tragedy would again strike the bridge on March 1, 1994 when Lebanese-born Rashid Baz opened fire on a van from the Chabad-Lubavitch Orthodox Jewish Movement while on the bridge, hitting four of the occupants inside. 16 year-old Ari Halberstam was one of the wounded and he would die five days later from his wounds. Baz would claim that the shootings were the result of a traffic dispute, though his defense would later argue that he was simply reacting to events in the Middle East at the time. He would be sentenced to 141 years in prison for the crime and the case would be reclassified as a terrorist attack in 2000. Today, the Manhattan-side entrance is named the Ari Halberstam Memorial Ramp in memory of the boy killed.
On October 28, 2003, Kashmir-born Iyman Faris (aka Mohammad Rauf) would be sentenced to 20 years in prison for supporting the terrorist network al-Qaeda and his involvement in a 2002 plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge. The plot planned for a simultaneous derailment of a train in Washington D.C., while bringing down the bridge by cutting through its cables with blowtorches. Faris allegedly looked into obtaining the equipment and studied the architecture of the bridge, but ultimately called off the operation by sending a message to Pakistan that said, "
The weather is too hot.
The bridge was also the scene of a mass exodus from the city on September 11, 2001, as downtown workers fled the terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center. It would be closed off to all traffic for several weeks after the attacks, with the exception of emergency vehicles.
The Brooklyn Bridge Encounter
Though there are reports of paranormal activity in locations around the Brooklyn Bridge, there doesn't appear to be any ghostly tales that directly involve the bridge itself - which is somewhat of a surprise given the amount of deaths associated with it. However, that is not to say that there aren't strange stories attached to it. In fact, the bridge does play a part in a very well known and controversial case of an alien abduction researched by Budd Hopkins that has since been dubbed, "
the Brooklyn Bridge Encounter
At 3:00 A.M. of November 30, 1989, Linda Napolitano (originally aliased as Cortile) reported being awoken by someone in her apartment in a nearby complex. She claimed she was unable to move but spotted five aliens of the "
" variety coming toward her and levitating her off the bed and towards the window where a bright blue-white light was shining through. According to her, they passed through the closed window on her 12th floor and up to a waiting craft. Inside, they proceeded to examine her and asked a series of questions about her family before releasing her. She ran towards the door and suddenly found herself back in her bedroom.
The interesting thing about the case is that other witnesses soon contacted Hopkins who corroborated portions of her story. They reportedly had witnessed the same bright light in the sky and seeing a woman and other entities floating into an awaiting craft. One or two of these witnesses viewed the odd occurrence from their vantage point from the bridge itself and thought at the time that they were seeing the filming of a new Hollywood sci-fi film. It is three men that viewed it from their limousine traveling next to the East River that led the most credence to the case however.
According to accounts, two of the men were bodyguards escorting a senior United Nations official. Though they wished to remain anonymous, they did talk with Hopkins about what they saw and most sources list them as the former Secretary General of the UN, Javier Perez de Cuellar (now referred to as the "
"), and two CIA agents. Reportedly one of the agents became so obsessed with the case that he began stalking Napolitano and at one point kidnapped and interrogated her, accusing her of being involved in the actual abduction and indirectly involving him.
Given the witness testimony and Napolitano's own accounts, the story is considered one of the best-documented cases of alien abductions on record. The phenomenon and subsequent research by Hopkins would later be documented in his 1996 book,
Witnessed: The True Story of the Brooklyn Bridge UFO Abductions
The 2003 Blackout
On August 14, 2003, the city suffered a major blackout and the bridge again served as an exodus from the city. It turned out that so many pedestrians were walking on the structure that it reportedly began to sway underneath their feet. Many citizens contacted the authorities, concerned about the stability of the bridge. Though they do acknowledge the bridge is need of some repairs (currently scheduled for 2010), the authorities assured the general public that it was in no danger of collapsing. Architects pointed out that the bridge was not designed for pedestrian traffic and the sheer amount of people on it at that time is what caused the swaying.
In the Movies
The Brooklyn Bridge has appeared in several films over the years and its suicidal reputation was even played up in the 1996 romantic comedy
If Lucy Fell
, where the two main characters make a deal that if they didn't find true love by the age of 30, they would both jump off the bridge. In genre films, the bridge is destroyed by a tidal wave in
(1998) and is shown briefly in
(1996) right before an alien ship destroys the city (and presumably the bridge). It also harkened the arrival of
The Beast of 20,000 Fathoms
Horror director Lucio Fulci used the bridge in two of his films - once as a backdrop in the opening scenes of
The New York Ripper
(1982) and more famously for the scene of a zombie army ambling across it toward Manhattan at the end of
(1979) - Reportedly Fulci did not bother to secure a permit to shoot on the bridge or any of the other locations throughout the city. Instead, the crew threw some make-up on extras, sent them out on the pedestrian bridge, and followed behind with a handheld camera, which explains why cars can be seen driving by both directions below. The Brooklyn Bridge was also the scene of
's demise in the 1998 American remake of the film and the setting of the pivotal climax in the 2005 horror film
Recently, the film was the scene of mass chaos as citizens of New York City were fleeing over it in 2007's
I Am Legend
, recalling the images of the packed crowds leaving New York City on September 11, 2001. In both movies, the bridge does not fare well. In
I Am Legend
, the bridge is blown up by the military to stop the "plague" from leaving the city, while the monster in
similarly brings the evacuation to an end by tearing the bridge apart (perhaps one-upping
). It has also popped up in
The Devil's Advocate
Vampire in Brooklyn
The Bone Collector
(2001), among countless non-genre films as well.
The Brooklyn Bridge Today
The bridge is still open to the general public to this day and continues to be an enduring landmark for New York City. It is slated for repairs in 2010, but officials maintain that it is no danger of collapsing. Authorities have also deployed security cameras, foot patrols, and a police presence at rush hour to protect against any possible terrorist threats in the future.
In a 2005
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
article titled, "
The Dark Side of the Brooklyn Bridge
," reporter Jammie Salagubang discusses how the easy accessibility of the bridge might contribute to the high number of attempted suicides. The article examined future construction plans but could find no evidence of planned suicide prevention measures being put in place, despite studies that suggest that such barriers not only stop jumps from a particular location, but also might deter suicide altogether. As far as the Brooklyn Bridge is concerned, the apparent reluctance to build such a barrier might come down to simple aesthetics, as the opposition are concerned that the barrier might taint the "
" of the bridge.
PLEASE NOTE: Suicide is not at a trivial matter. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, we urge you to reach out for help. You can call 911 or your local emergency services number, and/or talk to family, friends, doctor, your minister, or spiritual guider. Similarly, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). They are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and all calls are free and confidential. Life is always the better option.
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NYC Cop Tours
The official Web Site of New York City Cop Tours run by retired officer Gary Gorman. Tours include the "Brooklyn Bridge Rescue Tour", driving tour of Terrorism locations in NYC, and a tour of the site of the World Trade Center.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle: The Dark Side of the Brooklyn Bridge
An article from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle by Jammie Salagubang, detailing the dark past and suicides from New York City's Brooklyn Bridge.
NYC24: A Walk on the Dark Side
An article from NYC24 that explores various macabre walking tours of New York City, New York.
Cloverfield Movie Site
Official web site for the film Cloverfield (2008).
The Internet Movie Database entry for the film Cloverfield (2008).
The High Falls Building and Terrace Park
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
See Also on TheCabinet.com
Blog: UFOs - The Brooklyn Bridge Encounter (11/29/08)
Blog: The Travels of the Blair Witch (12/22/08)
Blog: P.T. Barnum vs. the Brooklyn Bridge (05/17/09)
Available from Amazon.com
Witnessed; The True Story of the Brooklyn Bridge UFO Abductions
Brooklyn Bridge: Fact and Symbol (Phoenix Book; P828)
The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge: A Cultural History
I Am Legend (Widescreen Two-Disc Special Edition with Digital Copy)
Zombi 2 (25th Anniversary Special Edition 2-Disc Set)
The New York Ripper
The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms
Ghostbusters (Widescreen Edition)
Vampire in Brooklyn
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Public Domain image of the Brooklyn Bridge from Jet Lowe in 1982.
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Closed to the Public
" is marked that for a reason and we discourage any visits or attempts to gain access to that facility. Similarly, take note of any "
" that may be associated with a destination. Finally, treat any location and its local residents with respect. Any vandalism and/or unruly behavior is completely despicable and only ruins the experience for future visitors.
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