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On This Day in History, March 12: The Bridge and The Blizzard

The Great Blizzard of 1888 began on March 11, and New York City suffered through the worst of it on March 12 and 13.

One of the many stories of the storm that appeared in the New York Sun was in its March 13, 1888, issue. They wanted to report on how the great Brooklyn Bridge had fared in the storm and how a man who insisted on walking across came close to death. Here’s the story:

“With the exception of an hour from 9 to 10 a.m. yesterday [March 12] cars ran the Brooklyn Bridge at intervals. The Bridge was enduring a severe test, but President Howell said that not the slightest vibration was discovered in the solid piers. A northwest storm does not strike the bridge so fair as a southeast or southwest storm. Delay was caused by snow and ice. Regular trains ran yesterday morning to 5:10, when the cable was started. For two hours the cable did satisfactory work, but before 8 o’clock, snow and ice accumulated on the tracks, and the momentum of the cars was not sufficient to take them to the platforms. Engines had to pull the trains into the stations. The intervals between the trains grew longer, and the crowd which every morning rides over the bridge to New York was jammed up at the entrance of the bridge on Sands Street.

“The string of people became so dense and so vociferous that the police feared trouble, and the wooden bars were put up at the gate in front of the ticket choppers after a crowd had assembled on the upper landing. The barriers were broken down, and with a yell the crowd burst through. They did not gain anything by it except to get under cover. The situation was made more vexatious by an accident on the New York side. A train of three cars was pulled by a motor from the north track a short distance west, when the last car slipped off from the icy rails, and it had to be raised with jackscrews. This caused a delay of considerably over half an hour. Meanwhile the Brooklyn crowd of passengers waited.

“The bridge promenade was closed at 6 o’clock a.m. by order of Sergeant Phillips of the bridge police. When the crowd was biggest in front of the boxes a young man who said that he was Mr. Barnes, and was Secretary of the American Exchange limited, at 162 Broadway and that he had walked from Greenpoint, begged Sergeant Phillips to let him walk across the bridge, because he feared he would lose his place [job] if he was late. Sergeant Phillips consented, and the young man walked, or rather staggered, across the bridge until he became benumbed by cold and sore from being knocked against the iron railings by the wind. The policemen in their two snug houses under the towers had been warned by Sergeant Phillips by telephone to look out for Barnes. When Barnes arrived over the land span in New York, he staggered and fell. Policemen followed him, and as he did not rise they yanked him to his feet and marched him to the bridge entrance. Alone, he would have perished.

“Some passengers secured cabs to ride across and others climbed upon trucks.

“Superintendent Martin arrived in the middle of the forenoon in a cab and ordered the cable to be stopped because the grips failed to hold. Trains of two cars and two engines were put on, and afterward three cars and two engines, with a headway of from five to ten minutes. In the afternoon the Brooklynites returning caused a big and perpetual jam on the bridge approaches in New York. Men, in their haste to get into the cars, smashed car windows and crushed each other’s hats.

“Superintendent Martin hired a gang of Italian laborers to keep the tracks clear, but most of them deserted before night…”

“The bridge, on the whole, justified its creation yesterday.”

March 12, 2012 - 11:22am


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