How, you might ask, can a bridge be an entertainment favorite? For New York City’s Brooklyn Bridge the answers are many and include the historical information displays on the pedestrian walkway, the incredible views, the engineering innovation and its place in New York and America’s mythology.
When the Brooklyn Bridge was built it was the largest bridge of its kind (suspension) and the first made from steel wire. After thirteen years of work (that took 27 lives) the bridge was completed in 1883 and its towers were the tallest structures in the Western Hemisphere. It is worth noting particularly, that for a pedestrian walking across the bridge in 1883, its height was particularly shocking. The high rise as we know it had not yet come to be, nor was air travel a part of the world. A pedestrian in 1883 was elevated in space in a way that had not been previously imaginable; the walked above church steeples, then the highest edifices on the city’s landscape other than the bridge, in what was a less secular age. To walk across the bridge was not just a tremendous practicality for traveling between the cities of Brooklyn and New York (Brooklyn was not consolidated into New York City until 1898), but was also an act of faith, adventure and daring. So novel and surprising was the construction of the bridge, that a rumor of its imminent collapse caused a stampede on the bridge a week after it opened, killing a dozen people.
The Brooklyn Bridge remains one of the best, most fundamental ways to experience New York both as a modern and historical place. New York City is, at its heart, a 19th century city no matter how bright and gleaming technology endeavors to make her. Hence to understand this place, it is best to see it from one of the 19th century’s greatest achievements.
Accessing the Brooklyn Bridge is easy. One merely takes the 6 Train to City Hall. Depending where you exit it’s just a few paces to the pedestrian level of the bridge. At over a mile in length, crossing the bridge is decent exercise. Historical information about the construction of the bridge is displayed on plaques arrayed around each of its two towers. These explain both the personalities and technologies involved in the bridge’s creation. Around these towers the bridge pedestrian walkway is widened providing a good place to stop and take pictures or chat. The walkway is far narrower at the ends of the bridge and it’s best to keep moving, as well as to be aware for bicycles who share the pedestrian, not automobile areas of the bridge.
As popular as walking across the bridge is, I feel it is underused for sightseeing, with many falsely believing one can see enough of it from the ground. In spring an summer an ideal weekend day can be spent walking from one side of the bridge to the other before venturing to brunch either in lower Manhattan or in the increasingly culinarily interesting Brooklyn. Finally, because the bridge is always free (for cars too!) it’s a cheap way to experience the city and feel reinvigorated in your love for it by the perspective the bridge provides.