Wednesday, October 17, 2018

New York Stories #3: Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge

     Two very different songs came to me in Brooklyn.
     The first was perhaps inevitably, given my generation, when I realized we were not only in Brooklyn, but Brooklyn Heights.
     "But Patty's only seen the sights a girl can see from Brooklyn Heights...." 
     The "Patty Duke Show" theme song. My wife was amazed I remembered it. But I have a mind for that kind of thing.
     The other came as we shopped around for bagels. That was the idea—take the subway to Brooklyn, sample bagel places, return walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. Edie had Googled "best bagels in Brooklyn" and had a list, and I was following along. As good a way as any to pass a Saturday morning, though we decided that none of the actual New York bagels were as good as the ones at New York Bagels on Dempster Street.  Too big and airy, not dense and chewy enough. 
     We ended up walking down Montague Street. I noticed a plaque—here was where Arthur Miller wrote his first Broadway play. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do with the information, but it did drive home what street I was on, and evoked a line from Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue."
     "I lived with them on Montague Street, the basement down the stairs, there was music in the cafes at night, and revolution in the air."
     Must have been nice. But don't look for a plaque—while Dylan lived in Greenwich Village (on 4th Street, hence "Positively 4th Street") I couldn't find any evidence he lived with anybody on Montague Street, which dead-ends into the riverside promenade. It was just a story he made up.
    My wife and I took a right, then found our way to the Brooklyn Bridge and walked across.
    For some reason we were surprised to find it crowded, though of course it would be. How many sights in New York are famous, historic and, oh yes, free?
     Jammed, the pedestrian half anyway, with enough bikes blowing at top speed along the bike lane to keep walkers packed onto their side.  Someone is going to get killed there, one of these days, if they haven't already.
     We bought a bag of cucumbers and a bag of mangoes to munch. 
     Halfway across the bridge I noticed something truly extraordinary: a plaque to Emily Warren Roebling, who completed construction of the bridge after her husband, chief engineer Washington Roebling, became ill, a victim of the bends, it is believed, having taken over from his father, John Roebling, the bridge's designer, who died, of tetanus. after his foot was crushed while surveying the site, one of dozens of men who perished during its construction.
     The New York Times, in their series of belated obituaries celebrating overlooked women, included Emily Roebling, even though she was not overlooked, in her time. “How the Wife of the Brooklyn Bridge Engineer Has Assisted Her Husband,” read the headline of one article after the bridge opened—she was the first person to walk across the completed bridge, carrying a rooster—it is said—for good luck.
     I pointed out the plaque to my wife, worried she would take the epigram, “Back of every great work we can find the self-sacrificing devotion of a woman," in the wrong light. But she seemed unperturbed by it.




  1. The Patty Duke show and Dylan's Tangled Up in Blue.
    The references really hit home with people of a certain age. And I'm definitely one of them.
    Blood on the Tracks is definitely one of my favorite Dylan Albums.
    And the Patty Duke show was the program for my odd prepubescent crush for what i perceived then as being slightly socially aware of racial strife and bigotry.
    I have no idea what i saw in that light hearted family comedy that has had me always remembering it in that way.
    Sorry. I should heed the saying that's been attributed to Twain:
    "Remain silent and be thought a fool? Or open one's mouth and remove all doubt?"

  2. No question, his best. Or at least the one that resonated with me most.
    As for Patty Duke, I'm with you.


  3. "The great big city's a wondrous toy, just made for a girl and boy." Lorenz Hart


  4. My wife and I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge (and back) about twety years ago. What a wonderful and marvelous restores your faith in mankind and his ability to create. Goethe said architecture is "frozen music"...and the Bridge sings it. Wasn't nearly as crowded as it is now. Brooklyn wasn't so hip and cool yet. And it's no surprise that Lincolnwood and Skokie still out-bagel them. Finest kind...anywhere. Including New York, apparently.

    I recall seeing an enormous factory on the Brooklyn side. It had a huge clock tower or clock face...the same one that transit commuters checked for decades, to see if they were late for work, even a century ago. Betty Smith wrote about it in "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn"--one of our favorite books of all time.

    Is there a plaque at 215 Montague Street? For many years, 215 housed the offices of the late Brooklyn Dodgers. Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson there in 1945. The decision to tear the borough's heart out, by moving the franchise to Los Angeles, was made there in 1957--which resulted, years later, in a Pete Hamill piece:"The Three Worst People Who Ever Lived--Hitler, Stalin, and Walter O'Malley." The former owner has been dead for decades, but Brooklyn fans of a certain age still denounce him.

    1. Grizz, I love that Tree Grows in Brooklyn book.

    2. I have a first edition from 1943, with the original dust jacket. Not worth much, though, as both the jacket and the book itself are pretty beaten-up. And most early hard-cover editions of that book have very yellowed pages, because the quality of paper for printing was reduced during World War II, to help the war effort.

      Books from the mid-Forties were produced on what I like to call "war paper"...I think it's actually called "ragstock"...and many of the volumes in my wife's collection of original Nancy Drew books look the same way--almost like parchment. Very thin pages, extremely yellowed paper (almost tan), very fragile, and easily damaged.

  5. I don't think you have to have a mind for this stuff. I think you just have to have watched a lot of bad TV in the 1960s to know that Cathy enjoyed a minuet and a hotdog made Patty lose control.

    I can sing the whole thing. Both verses. As can all my friends my age

  6. "I'm takin' a Greyhound on the Hudson River Line.....I'm in a New York State of Mind"...Lovin' this little New York vacation your taking us on this week... and Amen to the New York Bagels (Lincolnwood). Never go anywhere else

  7. David McCullogh's book about the Bridge is one of his best, far better than 1776 which pales in comparison. David Hackett Fischer covers that year in Washington's Crossing, a far superior work. His telling of the winter raid across the Delaware will almost give you frostbite.

  8. We go to Chicago once a year to see a game a Wrigley Field. We always go to Kaufmann's for corned beef sandwiches and pick up some bagels to take home. I have no idea how we picked Kauffman's. I guess because it was close to the Skokie Swift.


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