The “Bridge of Sighs” over a downtown prison

Venice’s “Bridge of Sighs,” built in 1602, connected the city’s prisons to the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace.

The name comes from a Byron poem suggesting that condemned prisoners walking back over the bridge would view Venice and then sigh before being locked up for years—or executed.

New York had its own Bridge of Sighs. It linked the criminal court building and the infamous Tombs prison bounded by Centre, Franklin, Elm (Lafayette), and Leonard Streets.

The inspiration for the name is the same. “The span was called ‘the Bridge of Sighs’ because condemned prisoners passed over it on the way to their deaths,” explains correctionhistory.org.

“The gallows were set up in the courtyard near the Bridge of Sighs and taken down immediately afterwards.

“Before the state began employing the electric chair at Ossining and Auburn prisons, the Tombs gallows had hanged some 50 convicted murderers.”

The postcard above shows the Bridge of Sighs connecting the criminal court building on the left with the new Tombs built in 1902 on the right.

Based on what correctionhistory.org says about gallows in the prison yard, plus the fact that the last hanging at the Tombs took place in the 19th century, there must have been a previous Bridge of Sighs connecting the first Tombs, constructed in 1838.

Perhaps this is it, in an illustration from the NYPL Digital Collection.

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10 Responses to “The “Bridge of Sighs” over a downtown prison”

  1. Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in « Rambler's Central Says:

    [...] del passato più o meno recente. Chi sa, per esempio, che New York come Venezia aveva un proprio Ponte dei Sospiri? Possibile che negli anni Venti le acque del lago di Central Park fossero pattugliate da una canoa [...]

  2. marc kehoe Says:

    There exists today a contemporary Bridge of Sighs-
    Walk down Baxter Street south of White, and look to your right.

  3. Elwood D Pennypacker Says:

    Gothamist just posted a video clip of a film from 1938 about the city that mentions the Bridge of Sighs at about the 2 minute mark.

    http://gothamist.com/2012/01/06/vintage_video_shows_the_city_of_won.php

  4. Joe R Says:

    The “new” Bridge of Sighs”, connecting the Detention Facility with Manhattan Criminal Court, has some interesting reliefs at each end. I’m not certain – as I can’t read either Chinese or Hebrew – but they seem to be Confucius and Moses. I suppose that they are there as they were both lawgivers.

  5. tim Says:

    What about the bridge that connects two buildings on staple street that runs between harrison and jay streets? i was told it connected an old power station to an old hospital, but i can’t seem to find any documentation on that

  6. moonstruck4 Says:

    Reblogged this on Moonstruck4's Blog and commented:
    Fascinating.

  7. When Charles Dickens toured the city in 1842 « Ephemeral New York Says:

    [...] New York, he dined at Delmonico’s, visited alms houses and lunatic asylums, checked out the infamous Tombs prison and amusement garden Niblo’s, and hung out at a dance hall called Almack’s popular with [...]

  8. chas Says:

    I stare at that bridge each time I dine at one of my favorite joints in the city…Pho Pastuer…directly across the street on Baxter…interesting stuff as usual…

  9. The Tombs: New York’s notoriously named prison | Ephemeral New York Says:

    [...] the Bridge of Sighs connecting the jail to the courts building—named after the original Bridge of Sighs in [...]

  10. Ken Says:

    I would love to share a vintage postcard from 1908 of this building but don’t know how to post it here. I’m not too technical !

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