Introduction

Revolutionary Lifestyles

Corporate Deals

Constructing Class

Chief Engineers

An Icon Is Born

Appropriating Control

The People's Bridge

Bridge as Image

Conclusion

Sources


Bridge Timeline

Roebling Timeline

Bridge Statistics


Printable Text







Bridge as Image

Although the drama surrounding the construction of the bridge and its builders helped ensure the Brooklyn Bridge's monumental status, its repeated appearance in all aspects of culture clinched its iconic eminence. According to scholar Lewis Mumford:

If the bridge isn't part if our life, if it…doesn't add to the quality of our thought, it really doesn't exist. Nothing really lasts except what can be translated into terms of the human spirit, the human mind. If it doesn't make its impression on the mind, it will vanish very quickly, no matter how much power or riches is behind it. This was the work of an engineer who was also a great artist, a man whom one might dare to mention almost in the same breath as Leonardo da Vinci (Burns).

Although Mumford discusses not the Roeblings specifically but a certain type of "engineer" who is as much visionary as builder, the ambiguity of Mumford's reference—could he mean John or Washington?—highlights two critical points. First, in the decades that followed the Bridge's opening day, memory has faded the distinction between father and son. The name Roebling is still synonymous with the East River monument, but history has chosen to forget the details. This fact, perhaps more than any other, indicates how tightly the Bridge and the Roebling's have been woven into the American myth for public history, by definition, maintains the spirit while neglecting the facts.

Secondly, according to Mumford's commentary the ubiquity of the bridge determines its cultural relevance. The Brooklyn Bridge has appeared in commercial advertisements to bring the credibility of a recognizable landmark to an unknown product. In movies and television shots of the bridge located the time and place of the action; they also enhanced the emotional context because viewers felt the same excitement and awe as the characters when they themselves beheld the monumnet. The Brooklyn Bridge has been the object of high-brow art—inlcuding sketches, paintings, and a plethora of photographs—a poem by Hart Crane, and a song by Frank Sinatra. Few monuments, especially outside of the capital region, have captured the imagination of so many, so profoundly. "The thing about the Brooklyn Bridge, in the end," claims architecture critic Paul Goldberger, "is that it is just so beautiful." He continues:

I think that's what's moved poets, sculptors, painters, not to mention architects to sing its praises for all these nearly hundred years since its been finished. The bridge is the archetypal monument really. It's all we want of a monument. I think it has great noble scale, which a monument must have, yet it has something to relate it to human scale at the same time, and it feels very much like a public place. It's a place for all of us, and I think that's universal to good monumental architecture, that it must have some relationship to the shared needs of society (Burns).

Playwrite Arthur Miller succinctly explains, "It makes you feel that maybe you, too, could do something that would last and be beautiful" (Burns). Following is a mere sampling of how artists and others have attempted to demonstrate that relationship.

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