May 24 marks the 125th anniversary of the world’s most famous bridge. By all accounts, that date in 1883 was pretty grand for the cities of New York and Brooklyn: Schools were closed, a procession of thousands crossed the East River, politicians made speeches, and fireworks lit up the evening sky.
But the bridge’s early days weren’t without tragedy. During the 13 years of construction, 27 workers reportedly lost their lives. That includes its designer, John Augustus Roebling, who succumbed to tetanus acquired on the job. His son, Washington Roebling, succeeded him, but not without developing the bends in 1872. (Yep, these are the Roeblings of Roebling Street in Williamsburg.)
Worst of all was the stampede that occurred on May 30, 1883, the Sunday after opening day. Thousands packed the walkways to stroll across the new bridge. At a staircase on the New York side, masses of walkers somehow began pushing and shoving one another. In the end, 12 people were trampled, as this Brooklyn Daily Eagle headline sums up.