Brooklyn Bridge opens (1883)

Brooklyn Bridge, New York c1915

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

The big bridge open: Two cities join in making a mammoth holiday — Brooklyn in a gale of festival from dawn to midnight

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

New York pier of the Brooklyn Bridge 1876

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.

Brooklyn Bridge - A union of hearts and a union of hands - 1883

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.

Brooklyn Bridge under construction - Brooklyn Ferry Terminal - Annex Cigar Factory (1882)

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.

View from Brooklyn (1885)

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.

View of lower Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge tower (1885)

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.

NYC Brooklyn Bridge - Pedestrians on the Promenade, horse cars, electric streetcars (1885)

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.

Brooklyn Bridge and sailing ships (1880)

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.

View of the Bridge from New York (1882)

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 Fifth Avenue open for the Seventh Regiment, which left its armory at 11:40 o’clock, preceded by the full band of ninety-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 wore gray coats and white 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.

New York Approach to the Brooklyn Bridge (1883)

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.

Brooklyn Bridge from NYC (1906)

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.

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