The first man to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge

When the Brooklyn Bridge opened in May 1883, it gained fame for its beauty and accessibility. And not long after that, it became known for its jumpers.

The first person to leap from the bridge was Robert Odlum, a 34-year-old swimming instructor.

On the afternoon of May 19, 1885, after going to church, he assembled an audience: a tugboat full of spectators in the East River, as well as a rescue swimmer waiting below to help him onto the boat after he hit the water.

Around 5:30, with the bridge packed with pedestrians strolling the walkways, Odlum climbed over the rail and took his plunge.

“To lower the impact, he held one arm above his head and the other pressed to his side,” writes G.S. Prentzas in The Brooklyn Bridge.

Did he survive? Initially, yes. He rose to the water’s surface motionless, and another man on the tugboat swam out to get him and bring him on board. But his insides were lacerated, and he died that evening.

Why he did it is kind of a mystery. Some sources say it was just a daredevil stunt, others that he was after fame and fortune. He did become famous—and ever since, others have taken the same leap into the East River, with mixed results.

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4 Responses to “The first man to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge”

  1. Lisa Says:

    One of my husband’s good friends jumped from the Brooklyn Bridge about three years ago (in January, no less). He not only lived to tell the tale but suffered only minor short-term injuries.

    He phoned us from the hospital the next day, and we didn’t buy his story ’til we googled and saw footage of the Coastguard fishing him out of the river.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Lucky guy.

  3. A fame-seeking teen jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Not long after the Brooklyn Bridge officially opened in 1883, people started jumping off it. […]

  4. A 1930s daredevil dives off the Brooklyn Bridge | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] first jumper was swimming instructor Robert Oldum in 1885, and last year, two German guys climbed to the top of the bridge tower and stuck a white flag on the […]

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