Finally! The real story behind the Brooklyn Bridge

Finally! The real story behind the Brooklyn Bridge
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Traffic is pretty damn bad on the Brooklyn Bridge — but that’s nothing compared to building it.

More than 20 men died during its construction, but their sacrifice yielded a bridge that has endured more than 125 years of horse-drawn carriage, car, truck and even elephant traffic without buckling — an epic saga that forms the heart of Clifford Zink new book, “The Roebling Legacy.”

“It’s such a classic American story,” said Zink, who will read at PowerHouse Arena in DUMBO on Nov. 29. “It has immigration, the Industrial Revolution, visionary engineering accomplishments and, of course, tragedy and heroism.”

The bridge was designed, engineered and, in part, funded by the Roebling family — so it’s fitting that Kriss Roebling, the great-great-great-grandson of engineer Washington Roebling — will be on hand.

Needless to say, Roebling is a fan of his ancestors’ work.

“Being a life-long New Yorker, there are so many times that I’ll be walking over the bridge and my sense of family history dissolves into the experience of being a New Yorker,” said Roebling, who lives steps from the bridge in Brooklyn Heights. “Even if I had no family connection, I would still love the bridge.”

Sure, every Brooklynite feels he knows the bridge and its history intimately. But Zink’s book is chock-a-block with details that will delight even the most jaded New Yorker, such as:

• How Washington Roebling, the son of the bridge’s designer, became disabled in a construction accident — and then oversaw the final construction of the bridge by watching his workers through a telescope from an apartment in Brooklyn Heights.

• How Emily Roebling, Washington’s wife, became a liason between her husband and assistant engineers at the bridge after his accident and was an early symbol for the women’s rights movement by shouldering a man’s responsibilities in a man’s world.

• How the family business operated for four generations and developed what some people call America’s first sports car, the Mercer Raceabout.

• How Washington Roebling II, Washington’s nephew, died with the sinking of the Titanic.

It’s a fascinating tale — and the setting for Zink’s reading could not be more appropriate: DUMBO, after all, earned its name from being “down under” the bridge overpass, and the neighborhood has sweeping views of the true Robeling legacy.

Clifford Zink reads from “The Roebling Legacy” at PowerHouse Arena [37 Main St. between Water and Front streets in DUMBO, (718) 666-3049], Nov. 29, 7-9 pm. Free. For info, visit www.powerhousearena.com.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4514.