Brooklyn Bridge opens (1883)

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The big bridge open

Two cities join in making a mammoth holiday

Brooklyn in a gale of festival from dawn to midnight

The president’s walk across the bridge with cannon accompaniement from forts and ships

We do some immense looking on — Both towers full of rustic sightseers — A wonderful night along the river — A million people or so on the wharves and the stream a Broadway of innumerable craft, big and little, and bright with bunting — Speeches at the formal handing over of the bridge to the two cities — A gorgeous show of fireworks from the towers and the span — Brooklyn illuminating — President Arthur’s and engineer Washington Roebling’s receptions

The day for which Brooklyn has waited for fourteen years dawned so auspiciously that the city awoke delighted and set to work with a will to make it memorable. Flags that from an elevated point seemed to be like forest trees in number waves from Newtown Creek to Gowanus Bay. Houses, like their occupants, appeared at an early hour in their best adornment. Long Island poured thousands into the city to celebrate the linking of the long-isolated territory of the main land. Satisfaction lightened the faces of the multitudes that turned into the streets early to see all that was to be seen. The apathy of the city long-traceable to its dormitory relation to New York seemed dispelled as if by magic.

The exhilarating incident to the important event was enhanced by a most healthful breeze that would have been welcomed on any day in a bad weather-ridden region. “The Star Spangled Banner” was the emblem of the day. It floated from the scullery window, from the lady’s chamber, from the heads of the car horse, and from the lamp of the decorated clarence, from the bootblack’s stand, and from the crest of the bridge towers. It stood as a sentinel on housetops from the center to the circumference and even down to the sea.

The sullen public discontent that grew with the long years of impatience over the delays upon the bridge seemed to have faded out of mind, and there was nothing but praise and commendation for the projectors and finishers of the serial highway. Their pictures and the picture of the work were sold on the streets, medals containing a miniature bridge were attached to watch chains and bracelets, and emblems of the finished work in wax, in flowers, in wood or in confectionery were everywhere.

The streets were so thronged that there could not seem to be any sane reason for the desire for more population in Brooklyn. The bridge seemed to act as a lodestone upon the restless masses, and people packed in line upon line all around the streets commanding a view of it. All roads, it is evident, must lead to the bridge, omnibuses, carryalls and cabs displayed signs indicating that it was their destination.

New York waking up

New York city, if not so wholly and devotedly astir as her sister, sent forth enough of her multitudes to blacken the East Riverfront and ham all avenues of approach to it and all the streets near this end of the bridge. Tens of thousands of people from out of town lost their way hopelessly in the living labyrinths, and vainly besought help of the plentiful policemen. The New York policemen were not giving information yesterday — only orders to stand back and to get out of that.

By noon, it was impossible to get within two blocks of the bridge without fighting, and all the cars were stopped and run down the Second Avenue line. The huge wagons that bring milk and produce into the city at night came in again yesterday, but instead of their usual freight, they carried delegations of country people. In the crowd were all sorts of men, witless, green, puzzled, bewildered, lost, benighted and distracted. Usually they clasped each other’s hands or hung tightly to one another’s coat sleeves and indicated the direction they wished to go by gesture or short half-stifled exclamations.

Their bronzed faces shone in the heat. They pushed and trod upon everybody that got in their way, and could not settle down in any one place. One moment they were clambering clumsily up the sides of stoops or balancing themselves insecurely on fences, and next they were pushing their way, with half awestruck faces, through the crowds in the gutter out into the street itself. A moment later, a wave from the policemen’s club would send them back again into the throng. The crowd impressed them with awe, the buildings and flags with admiration, but the consuming desire of their hear was to see the President, The Governor, and other political magnates.

As the rustics pushed themselves through the throng, they elbowed mild-looking Chinamen, who tiptoes through the crowd as though afraid they would be annihilated if they were noticed. Mixed in were able-bodies workmen, some in their holiday clothes, others in overalls and check shirts, standing man-like and sturdy in the best places on the line, holding them by right of eminent domain.

All along on the sidewalks uptown were spruce and well-clad youngsters, attached to more or less attractive women, carrying huge bunches of flowers and wearing a general holiday aspect. It was a cosmopolitan throng. The rural swains, resplendent in bright green ties, spring-bottom trousers, heavy frock coats and black gloves gazed upon the spruce and self-contained dudes with curiosity, but received cold and pretentious stares in return.

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