That bridge

by robertmcnicol

Hello there one and both. So I’ve been here for a while now and frankly it’s getting a little boring.


HA HA!! Had you fooled! I was joking, of course. I’m currently chez Machado, listening to Mark Ronson’s Authentic Shit (sorry Mum) radio show which was actually broadcast last week or something, though we went to see him do his schtick on Friday (before we went to the Planetarium and danced to some pumping dirty house music (sorry Mum)) though he wasn’t actually DJ-ing as he had a guest DJ though he was sitting in the background sipping a beer or somesuch though he didn’t look like he was enjoying himself much though he probably was.

I think I may be playing this a bit loud and that it might be interfering with my sentence structure. Sorry about that. Turned it down now. Mr Buttress might, with his implicit interest in all things Gothic, be interested in this post, being as it is about one of the finest Gothic structures on Earth. No, not Rheims Cathedral, nor the Palace of Westminster. Don’t be so foolish – I’m in New York; and I thought my readers were clever. Huh. No, sorry – yes, er, right. No, so not either of those but this one:

Oh to be a Roebling!

It’s the Brooklyn Bridge! And it only cost about twenty or so lives! (Another crane collapse happened last week in Manhattan, killing 2 and seriously injuring another. Four people died in a crane collapse in March. All very sad and very preventable. Could we do some learning on this issue soon please?) But more about death shortly.

The Bridge opened on 24th May, 1883, Which happened to be Queen Victoria’s birthday, leading, apparently, to a minor protest from some Irish workers. Yeah – go figure. But everyone else thought it was rather good. Before the Bridge was built and you wanted to get to Manhattan without getting wet then you’d better have a boat. 

John Augustus Roebling had figured out a clever way to spin steel cables back in 1840, used it to construct a few bridges around the US and was commissioned to build a span across the East River in 1867 and was paid $8,000 a year for his troubles. Troubles he well had, and $16,000 isn’t much to pay a man to die for a bridge. On July 6th 1869, JAR was fatally wounded in the foot. Crushed by a ferry (there’s some irony in that, right?), he later developed lockjaw and/or tetanus and never saw construction begin on his most famous work.

JAR’s son Washington took over the Bridge’s construction but was himself injured in 1872 when he contracted caisson disease, which is something like the bends and almost as annoying as a Radiohead record, and was consigned to his sickbed for the rest of his days. And so to my hero of the whole fatalistic affair: Emily Warren Roebling, Washington’s wife, taught herself advanced mathematics and engineering, learnt the finer niceties of cable construction and the tensile properties of steel and masonry. EWR conveyed Washington’s instructions to the foremen on site and was the first woman to address the American Society of Civil Engineers, arguing that Washington should not be removed as chief engineer.

It was rumoured at the time that she was the real brains behind the whole construction. No shit Sherlock (sorry Mum). Many have said that Emily’s involvement was selfless and humble. I respectfully disagree; I think she saw an opportunity, amidst the tragedy of her husband’s illness, to exercise her many gifts and took it. I think she was imbued with the grandiosity of her father-in-law’s dream and couldn’t wait to see it in stone and steel. I think she built something amazing.