Sunday, May 17, 2009

P.T. Barnum vs. the Brooklyn Bridge

Today marks the 125th Anniversary of a rather strange event on the world-famous Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, New York. On May 17, 1884, famed showman P.T. Barnum decided to unleash a public spectacle by leading a menagerie of his circus animals across the still relatively young landmark. The train of animals included seven camels, ten one-humped Arabian camels, and 21 elephants, including the world famous Jumbo - a large African bush elephant that stood at an estimated 11-13 feet. The event was naturally well publicized and a massive crowd was said to have roared in applause as the convoy made its way across the bridge.

So why the need for such a spectacle? The Brooklyn Bridge had only opened one year earlier and questions about the bridge's stability started almost immediately. Tragically, those fears led to tragedy less than a week after its opening. On May 30, 1883, the bridge was loaded with people when a rumor went through the crowd that the bridge was about to collapse. The frightened crowd immediately made way for either side of the bridge and a stampede occurred. Officials were finally able to restore order over fifteen minutes later, but the damage had already been done. 12 people had either been trampled to death or died after being pushed into the river below, while another 35 were injured. Just short of one year later and " the interest of the dear public," P.T. Barnum and his circus arrived to prove once and for all that the bridge was safe. The stunt worked and the questions about the stability of the structure were silenced.

Read more tales about the Brooklyn Bridge.

-Casey H.


Anonymous said...

very interesting story, I didn't know this.

Chris 'Frog Queen' Davis said...

Great story. I will have to share it with husband, he is a big circus collector - mostly clown stuff, but he loves reading about P.T. Barnum. Thanks!