It is not by accident we find ourselves stepping into a role we would never dream for ourselves, yet, by so doing, we create a legacy far beyond those dreams.
One of my favorite movies, Kate and Leopold, includes this early scene between Kate (Meg Ryan) and her ex-boyfriend Stuart (Liev Schriber)
Stuart: I found it.
Kate: What did you find?
Stuart: The portal. A crack in the fabric of time. It was over the East River, Kate, just where I said it would be.
Kate: You found the portal?
Stuart: A portal into April 28th, 1876. I jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge and took a walk in 1876 today. I followed the Duke of Albany around old New York. Are you listening?
Stuart: This here's the twist, Kate. Here's the kicker.
Kate: What's the kicker?
Stuart: [whispering] He followed me home.
I’m not quite sure what I’d do if the Duke of Albany (Hugh Jackman) followed me around. That is, however, not why I’m fascinated with the Brooklyn Bridge.
I love its beauty, strength and history, and I made a point to visit it on my last day trip to Manhattan. Is that awesome, or what? I could have stood there all day just to look at it.
This post is about someone who stepped into the gap, not a time portal, and became
The Silent Builder of the Brooklyn Bridge.
The Silent Builder of the Brooklyn Bridge.
This beautiful icon of New York City and nineteenth century engineering, may never have been built in its current design if not for Emily Warren Roebling. The bridge stands now as “…an everlasting monument to the sacrificing devotion of a woman and her capacity for that higher education from which she has been too long disbarred.”
While surveying the site in 1869, bridge designer John Roebling’s foot was crushed between a piling and ferry. Tetanus killed him some days later and his thirty two year old son Washington was put in charge. A year later, construction was stalled again when Washington developed severe Caisson Disease, aka The Bends, and became permanently disabled. His wife, Emily, mother of a two-year-old, took over direction of the project.
Emily had met Washington Roebling while attending a military ball during the Civil War. Marriage was a smart move for Washington--Emily’s ease at leadership and mediation, her confidence and creativity enabled her to direct the entire construction product and work through every setback that came along.
Image via Wikipedia
The design by Emily’s father-in-law, provided three safeguard systems and made it “six times stronger” than it needed to be. To do this, Washington and Emily had to come up with the huge cables needed for a suspension bridge twice the length of any other. They created their own by formulating a process of wrapping steel wire into steel ropes and twisting them into cables over fifteen inches thick.
Emily was not just a pretty face. She understood “calculations of catenary curves, the strength of materials, bridge specifications and the intricacies of cable construction.” Common enough dinner conversation at my house.
Construction lasted over thirteen years.
The bridge opened in 1883. Emily attended the ceremonies, and became the first person to "officially" walk across the bridge. Her husband, who’d come to be known as “the man in the window” waited at home to host dignitaries such as President Chester A. Arthur.
Emily did not rest. She went on to receive a law degree from New York University, and write a non-fiction book based on the revolutionary war journals of her ancestor, Reverend Silas Constant. Emily traveled to Europe and was presented to Queen Victoria in 1896. (Check out her dress for the occasion, displayed in the Brooklyn Museum.)
Cool Brooklyn Bridge Facts (Sorry. I love facts)
*The main span is 1596.5 feet long
*It cost 15.5 million dollars to build ~1870-1883
*1884 PT Barnum paraded 21 elephants across the bridge to prove its ‘strength’
*The pedestrian walkway is elevated above the center lanes (the bridge is six lanes wide)
*It took two years to create the suspension cables
Mrs. Roebling’s tombstone in Putnam County, NY is inscribed: Gifted, Noble, True.
Emily Roebling probably did not plan for greatness, but she prepared for it. She stepped into the gap and literally provided the bridge from 'design' through 'completion'.
I recommend Ken Burns' 1982 documentary based on the book by David McCullough (Washington Roebling's character is spoken by actor Paul Roebling, his great grandson. Cool, huh?)
For some icing on this cake...two fun videos:
Johnny Maestro and the Brooklyn Bridge
Sting – “Until” theme song from Kate and Leopold
Both songs have been stuck in my head while I prepared for this blog.
What are you prepared to do? This could be your year!
What interesting or inspiring facts have you found hidden behind a piece of history?
The quote regarding Mrs. Roebling comes from Abram S Hewitt, who oversaw construction of New York's Subway system.
I'm over at Keli Gwyn's blog Romance Writers on the Journey, today 1/18, with a giveaway. I'd be happy to see you stop by. Keli always does an awesome job interviewing writers and I like seeing the word novelist in front of my name!