Critic James Wolcott describes Brooklyn Bridge, the one of New York's noblest and most recognized landmarks as "a drive-through cathedral". Spanning the East River, the Brooklyn Bridge connected Manhattan Island to the then-independent city of Brooklyn; before its opening, Brooklynites had only the Fulton Street Ferry to shuttle them across the river. John Augustus Roebling - a visionary architect, legendary engineer, metaphysical philosopher, and fervid abolitionist was the man, whom the frozen river prevented him from getting to Brooklyn on an icy winter's day in 1852. To be sure, he was by no means the first person so inconvenienced, but as a bridge builder, Roebling was perfectly qualified to rectify the matter. Roebling spent the next 30 years designing, raising money for, and building what would be one of the first steel suspension bridges - and what was for several years one of the world's longest. Alas, its construction was fraught with peril. Work began in 1867; two years later Roebling died of gangrene, after a wayward ferry boat rammed his foot while he was at work on a pier. His son, Washington, took over the project and was himself permanently crippled-like many others who worked on the bridge underwater, he suffered from the bends, or decompression sickness. With the help of his wife, Emily, Washington nonetheless saw the bridge's construction through to completion.
The long struggle to build the bridge so captured the imagination of the city that when it opened in 1883 it was promptly crowned the "Eighth Wonder of the World." Its twin Gothic-arch towers, with a span of 1,595'A ft, rise 272 ft from the river below; the bridge's overall length of 6,016 ft made it four times longer than the longest suspension bridge of its day. From roadway to water is about 133 ft, high enough to allow the tallest ships to pass. The roadway is supported by a web of steel cables, hung from the towers and attached to block-long anchorages on either shore.
A walk across the bridge's promenade - a boardwalk elevated above the roadway and shared by pedestrians, in-line skaters, and bicyclists - takes about 40 minutes, from Manhattan's civic center to the heart of Brooklyn Heights; it's well worth traversing for the astounding views. Midtown's jumble of spires looms to the north, to the left of the Manhattan Bridge. Mostly newer skyscrapers crowd lower Manhattan, while the tall ships docked at their feet, at South Street Seaport; appear to have sailed in straight from the 19th century. Governors Island sits forlornly in the middle of the harbor, which sweeps open dramatically toward Lady Liberty and, off in the distance, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (its towers are more than twice as tall as those of the Brooklyn Bridge). A word of caution to pedestrians: do obey the lane markings on the promenade - pedestrians on the north side, bicyclists on the south - as the latter often pedal furiously.