The Brooklyn Bridge, which we walk over on the “Best of Brooklyn-The Brooklyn Revolution” tour , was a massive achievement in the annals of engineering. It cost over 15 million dollars and took from 1869 to 1883 to build it, but much of the populace did not trust suspension bridges. It was publicly known that a large percentage of them collapsed. Just six days after the bridge opened on May 24, 1883, with thousands of people on the bridge, a woman tripped a staircase on the bridge, another woman let out a scream, and the crowd pushed forward and down the stairs, creating a panic and stampede. As it was reported in the newspaper: “Those following were in turn pushed over and in a moment the narrow stairway was choked with human beings, piled one on top of the other, who were being crushed to death. In a few minutes, 12 persons were killed, 7 injured so seriously that their lives are despaired of, and 28 others more or less severely wounded.”
When the police cleared the Brooklyn Bridge, the bridge was covered with articles of clothing and other belongings including 42 umbrellas and parasols, 6 canes, 34 bonnets, a skirt and 6 pairs of shoes.
Never one to turn down a public relations opportunity, the impresario P.T. Barnum, used this tragedy to show the bridge’s herculean strength on May 17, 1884 by having 21 elephants, plus 10 camels and 7 dromedaries march across the bridge, with his most famous elephant Jumbo, bringing up the rear.
Not long after the Civil War, the brothers John and Charles Arbuckle, revolutionized and started a new industry in today’s DUMBO, Brooklyn, by offering roasted coffee to consumers in single pound packages. Before that, coffee beans were purchased green and roasted at home over a fire or in a wood stove; getting a consistent and palatable end product was challenging. The Arbuckle Brothers had such a popular product that they shipped their coffee throughout the country. Marketing their product under the Ariosa and Yuban brands, they were still going through the 20th Century…and the Yuban brand is still around even today. On the Brooklyn Revolution tour, we visit the amazingly renovated Empire Stores, the site and facility used by the Arbuckle Brothers to process their coffee until they sold it in the 1940s.
Robert Fulton is undoubtedly, one of the most important people in the history of New York City. He is credited with commercializing the steamboat. His first boat, the Clermont, took travelers on a 150 mile trip up the Hudson River from New York City to Albany. The steamboat had a tremendous influence on trade and transportation improving both reliability and speed. In 1814, the wealthy Brooklyn landowner Hezikiah Pierrepont (as in Pierrepont Place), teamed up with Fulton, and took at 25-year lease on the ferry route between New York City and Brooklyn. The first steam-powered Nassau boat, made regularly scheduled trips between New York and Brooklyn and vice-versa, and effectively reduced the time in the winter and in storms from up to about 1.5 hours to only 12 minutes. We visit the Fulton Ferry landing on the Brooklyn walking tour and on the Hamilton & Washington tour we see the monument to Robert Fulton (near where he is buried) in the Trinity Church cemetery. Although the Brooklyn Bridge, completed, in 1883, reduced the steamboats viability, the Fulton Ferry operated until 1924. New York City currently offers a similar route from the Fulton Ferry landing to Wall Street in Manhattan. The photo is of Robert Fulton’s life mask done by Jean Antoine-Houdon, who also did George Washington’s life mask.
In 1862, Walt Whitman, resident of Brooklyn Heights wrote the following:
“Why then should not Brooklyn, in the experience of persons now living, become a city of a great million inhabitants? We have no doubt it will. We can not go over the list and description of our public institutions in this paper, although we intend to do so one of these days. We have not, in a modern city like Brooklyn, such marked specimens of magnificent architecture as the ancient or mediaeval cities presented, and many of whose ruins yet remain. For our architectural greatness consists in the hundreds and thousands of superb private dwellings, for the comfort and luxury of the great body of middle class people–a kind of architecture unknown until comparatively late times, and no where known to such an extent as in Brooklyn, and the other first class cities of the New World.”
Whitman was correct about the “great million inhabitants” that Brooklyn would achieve and the “greatness” of the architecture. See the houses he is referring to on the Brooklyn Revolution (aka Best of Brooklyn Tour)
On the Brooklyn Revolution walking tour, highlighting some of the best that Brooklyn has to offer, one of the most popular sites is the former home of Truman Capote, where he worked on two of his greatest works: “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood.” The house is on 70 Willow Street. From 1955-1965, Capote rented space on the basement level from Oliver Smith, the famed Tony Award-winning Broadway scenic designer. George Plimpton, who was a visitor, wrote that “when friends came to call, [Capote] often took them on a tour of the entire house (when Smith was not at home) and said it was his house, all his, and that he had restored and decorated every room.” In February 1959, Capote penned “Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir” for “Holiday” travel magazine in which he begins:
“I live in Brooklyn. By choice. Those ignorant of its allures are entitled to wonder why.”
The entire article and photos taken at the time by David Attie of Capote, the house and the neighborhood are available in the book: “Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir, with the Lost Photographs of David Attie.”