The last car — a 2001 Subaru Forester — rumbled along Prospect Park’s East Drive on Friday morning, before the mayor’s permanent ban on traffic in the meadow kicked in on Jan. 2. Cyclists and other advocates of a vehicle-free Brooklyn’s Backyard applauded the milestone moment, after pushing to indefinitely banish four-wheelers from within the green space for years. The ceremonial passage of the final auto is a break from the tradition of christening other borough roads with a vehicle’s inaugural journey, a pastime locals have documented for more than a century. Here’s a look back at some of those first four-wheelers, which Friday’s intrepid Subaru joins in the annals of celebrated rides in the Borough of Kings.
Emily Roebling — who helped direct construction of the borough’s namesake span after her husband, lead engineer Washington Roebling, fell ill with the bends — became the first person to cross the world’s first steel-cable suspension bridge on May 24, 1883. A coachman allegedly drove Roebling across the crossing in a Victoria horse-drawn carriage with a rooster — a traditional symbol of victory — clucking in her lap, and within 24 hours, an estimated quarter-million people followed in her tracks.
An unknown bakery-truck driver gunned it past a line of motorists — including Long Island resident George Horne who posed with his vehicle beside the toll plaza at the tunnel’s Kings County entrance — giving the middle bear claw to opening-day protocol and becoming the first Brooklyn-to-Manhattan driver to travel the tunnel on May 25, 1950, according to New York Daily News archives. The record-setting pastry postman would have paid a toll for the crossing, which at the time was a whopping 35 cents.
Seven men wearing rented tuxedos claimed the honor of first to cross the VZ — and to pay the span’s then 50-cent toll — when they cruised the bridge inside a blue Cadillac convertible on Nov. 21, 1964. Staten Island residents Frank Picone, Ronald Sacoff, Ben Goldsmith, Robert Caplan, Richard Ramaglia, Anthony Lenza, and George Scarpelli parked their ride behind the crossing’s massive toll plaza a week in advance to earn the honor, and manned the vehicle in alternating two-men shifts so the guys could accommodate commitments such as work and school, according to a Staten Island Advance report.
The septet’s audacious act initially irked Triboro Bridge and Tunnel Authority honchos, who had their own opening-day plans, but other Staten Islanders supported the men, including the Rock’s then borough president, and on the day of the bridge’s debut, the city provided the group with a police escort to shuttle its Cadillac across the 13,700-foot span.
On Apr. 27, Gov. Cuomo took the title of first to cross the new Kosciuszko Bridge, riding across the Brooklyn–Queens span aboard President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1932 Packard, which the governor refurbished to the tune of $10,000 at taxpayers’ expense a few months before the ceremonial journey.