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July 16, 2013
Talk about perseverance.
Bridge building, which goes back to ancient Rome, was getting its biggest test.
It took years of political wrangling, endless discussions about a six-lane tunnel, but eventually the plan was approved to build a bridge one and a half times longer than any other bridge in the world.
The troubles had just begun.
That didn't last long.
While doing some surveying, Roebling had his foot crushed when a ferry pinned it against a piling.
A spiritualist, and believer in hydrotherapy, he refused anesthesia and soon developed tetanus since he insisted only water clean his wound.
Exit John, who would never live to see his dream completed, and enter his son Washington Roebling.
That didn't last long.
Washington suffered a paralyzing injury as a result of decompression sickness, and put caisson disease on the map, shortly after the beginning of construction on January 3, 1870.
Enter his wife Emily Warren Roebling who provided the critical written link between her paralyzed husband and the engineers on-site.
Building the Brooklyn Bridge was more than just designing it; it required using key materials never used before.
Like the alloy steel instead of iron on the four cables, which was revolutionary, since steel was a suspect material.
(Britain outlawed steel for any structure at the time.)
Fourteen years later, after fines, a little graft, more accidents, fires, the Brooklyn Bridge became the longest and tallest suspension bridge in the world.
Even at the inauguration, many New Yorkers (before the car, remember) were convinced the bridge wasn't safe.
So P.T. Barnum led a caravan of circus animals, including 21 elephants, across it.
Only fitting, considering the circus atmosphere of the entire project.
Recently, someone proposed to his girlfriend on the Brooklyn Bridge, and dropped his engagement ring that was fortunately recovered by someone working below.
But no matter, ring or not.
On perhaps the most romantic bridge of them all, she had to say yes, and she did.
David McCullough, who wrote a great book called “The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge:”
“Out of what was an era known for corruption and decadence could rise this emblematic structure representing the highest kinds of aspirations in society. Among other things, it's the antithesis of planned obsolescence. It was designed to last forever, and with proper care it will.”