Friday, November 06, 2015
The Brooklyn Bridge, one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States, stretches over the East River from Manhattan to Brooklyn. The world's first steel-wire suspension bridge, its 1,595-foot span made it the largest suspension bridge in the world – some fifty percent longer than any previously built – and for several years its towers were the tallest structures in the entire Western Hemisphere.
Construction began in 1869, and the "New York and Brooklyn Bridge" was completed fourteen years later and opened for use on May 24, 1883, when 1,800 vehicles and 150,300 people crossed, including President Chester A. Arthur. A highlight of the event, which the papers characterized as "the biggest celebration New York City has ever seen," came when darkness fell and 80 electric lights, "a brand-new invention by Thomas Edison," were turned on, transforming night into day.
Shown with this column is a beautifully etched and exceedingly rare invitation to the May 24, 1883 opening ceremonies, which took place at "the Brooklyn approach" to the bridge. Soon after the bridge opened, Jews began an annual tradition of walking across it on Rosh Hashanah to recite Tashlich; also exhibited with this column is a photograph taken at the turn of the 19th century depicting Jews reciting Tashlich from the bridge and a Rosh Hashanah card, circa 1901, illustrating a Tashlich ceremony at the foot of the bridge.
The bridge was designed by an architectural firm owned by John Augustus Roebling who, though a Lutheran, was descended from Sephardic Jews who had migrated to Germany from Spain. Roebling studied science and mathematics at the private Pädagogium in Erfurt, Germany, where he was taught mathematics, surveying, general science, and critical thinking by the renowned Jewish scholar and mathematician Dr. Ephraim Salomon Unger.
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