Brooklyn Bridge opens (1883)

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All of the women

With the men were all sorts of women, from the overdressed, heated and bewildered companions of the rural visitors to the placid self-contained and reserved society girl of New York. There were feeble and nervous-looking women clinging helplessly to posts and railings, and looking with wild-eyed wonder at everyone who passed. There were drooping, faint and exhausted women, crushed by the throngs and held in uncomfortable positions for hours at a time, and unattended, lonely and disconsolate women buffeted by the throng. There were symmetrical, shapely, graceful, elegant, neat, bright-eyes and comely women in brilliant costumes and resplendent in colors, swayed to and fro in the throng; pushed, jostled and inextricably mixed with ungainly, uncouth and ill-favored women. In turn, they all swayed back and forth and jumbled up with ragged men.

Embroidery, lace, fringe, trimmings and skirts were bent and torn by the friction of the crowd, and the huge corset bouquets, which many of the women wore when they started out in the morning, were, after a half hour’s experience of the crowd, crushed and torn to pieces. With the women or without them were myriads of all sorts of children, none of whom, for a wonder, was trodden to death.

Brooklyn’s march to the bridge

The stir in Brooklyn did not center about the City Hall until high noon. A column of picked policemen numbering 250 marched down to the front of the white marble building in the reae of the City Hall, and Police Superintendent Campbell stepped out in a bright uniform and took his place at the head to move down to the entrance of the bridge.

Here comes the President!

In this city, Madison Square had been beset by a multitude before the forenoon was half over. Decoration Day never crowded the neighborhood more. Police left the Fifth Avenue open for the Seventh Regiment, which left its armory at 11:40 o’clock, preceded by the full band of ninuty one pieces. Col Emmons Clark, astride a gray charger and brilliantly uniformed, rode at the head of the command. Fourteen companies of twenty five each marched behind him in the hot sun. They worw gray coats and whlte trousers and white helmets with glided spikes and ornaments.

One hundred policemen on horseback cantered ahead of the soldiery and wheeled into Madison Square precisely at 12-1/2 o’clock. They formed in double ranks in front of the hotel and stood motionless as the regiment, amid a burst of hand-clapping and hearty cheers swept past the hotel entrance.

Thirty drums rolled in unison and the band played the inimitable “Hail to the Chief” as the detachment of 250 assigned as a guard to the Presidential party broke from the main line, and, turning with the precision of clockwork, swept into West Twenty Third Street. Here the soldiery formed in double ranks, and as the carriages for President Arthur’s party drew into line beside the hotel entrance and dropped their rifles to order arms with a sound like the simultaneous firing of a regiment of musketeers. There was a burst of applause at the neatness of the maneuver.

The next instant, there were cries of “Here comes the President,” and the crowd pressed forward with a rush that nearly broke the military cordon. Forty privates with glittering rifles stood guard in two rows at the entrance, and at 12:40, they presented arms and President Arthur, with his right arm linked in Mayor Edson’s left, entered from the corridor with an uncovered head. He wore a black frock coat and black trousers and a white necktie.

The air echoed with hand clapping and cheers as he appeared. The women in the crowd raised their hands above the heads of the men and wand their handkerchiefs, and from the swarming windows on either hand, similar feminine signals of hearty welcome met the Chief Magistrate’s eye as he stepped into his open carriage. The bay horses that drew it reared and pranced impatiently in the tumult. They were checked by the nimble police, and the President seated himself easily and put on a flat-brimmed black beaver hat. He had to take it off again repeatedly, however, in acknowledgement of the kindly salutes that met him on every side.


Page 1: Top — “The grand display of fireworks and illuminations at the opening of the great suspension bridge between New York and Brooklyn on the evening of May 24th, 1883,” by Currier & Ives. Second image: Brooklyn Bridge c1896, by Geo P Hall & Son, both courtesy LOC.

Page 2: Top — A bird’s-eye view of fireworks at the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art) The Great bridge with President Arthur and his party crossing the suspended highway, drawn by Schell and Hogan, courtesy LOC.

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