As this article is being written, a 23-year-old French tourist has been arrested for climbing over a fence on the Brooklyn Bridge’s pedestrian walkway, then shimmying up one of the bridge’s cables to take a photo.
The arrest comes three months after a Russian tourist was also arrested for climbing to the top of one of the bridge’s cables to take a photo, and about four months after two German artists scaled both towers of the bridge and replaced the American flags there with white flags.
Let’s not forget the many, many people who have either jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge or threatened to jump, starting with Steve Brodie’s supposed jump in 1886. Historians still debate whether Brodie’s account of his jump was true, but he became a celebrity, appearing in Broadway musicals and opening a saloon.
In the most recent case of Brooklyn Bridge shenanigans, the French tourist has reportedly been charged with criminal trespass and reckless endangerment. In response to this incident, which happened on Sunday, Brooklyn Borough President Adams has declared his support for a bill by Brooklyn’s state Sen. Daniel Squadron that would make it illegal to trespass on a city landmark. And the NYPD has said it will station more police near the fences separating the cables from the pedestrian walkway.
Still, it is wrong to see the many, many Brooklyn Bridge incidents only from a law enforcement perspective.
It would be just as easy to trespass on the Manhattan, Williamsburg or Queensboro bridges, or to jump from those bridges. But in a warped way, the fact that these people choose the Brooklyn Bridge is a tribute to its status as one of the top five most recognizable tourist attractions in New York.
If a race-car driver wants to drive a top-of-the-line vehicle, he chooses a Porsche, not a Mini-Cooper. If a connoisseur wants to order a truly great beer, he’ll order Chimay Trappist ale, not Bud Light (apologies to any Bud Light drinkers out there). And if a mischief-maker wants to make a dramatic statement, he or she will do it in a place that everybody knows — like the Brooklyn Bridge.
At first glance, one might think that the bridge-climbers are relatively harmless (provided that they have a strong grip). But if you’re in a car at the approach to the bridge when police are stopping traffic until the “incident” is cleared up, you don’t take such a benevolent view of the proceedings.
The bridge-jumpers and would-be-jumpers, of course, are a much more serious and dangerous phenomenon. Steve Brodie may have survived, but nowadays even those who are rescued by the Harbor Patrol suffer from hypothermia and other injuries. Anyone who threatens to jump off the bridge is suicidal and seriously disturbed. All in all, would-be-suicides on the bridge are no laughing matter.
Getting back to the relatively recent trend of climbing on the Brooklyn Bridge, I don’t think it will ever completely go away, just like subway graffiti will never completely go away. But more effective law enforcement will certainly discourage others who want to follow in the tourists’ footsteps. As for the proposed law that would make it a crime to trespass on a New York City landmark, I suppose it’s a good idea, although I plead guilty to breaking into an abandoned movie theater in San Francisco at midnight with a group of youthful pranksters many years ago.
If you’re a climber and you feeling like a challenge, please go upstate to the “Gunks,” otherwise known as the Shawngunk Ridge. Leave the Brooklyn Bridge alone!
Raanan Geberer, a freelance writer, recently retired as Managing Editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He had been Managing Editor of the Brooklyn Daily Bulletin until 1996, when the Brooklyn Daily Eagle was revived and merged with the Bulletin.