Why Emily Warren Roebling Is Rolling Over In Her Grave… The Desecration Of The Brooklyn Bridge

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By Jen Jones – From 1872 to 1883, Emily Warren Roebling oversaw one of the greatest engineering triumphs in history, the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. She toiled daily, against all odds, in a determined effort to bring her late father-in-law and bed ridden husband’s dream to fruition – to build the largest suspension bridge in the world. Now more than 130 years after doing just that, her pioneering efforts and majestic landmark are being trashed – quite literally – by thousands of ego-driven tourists fixated on leaving a visual “I was here” mark behind.

On my way to work this morning, I had a sudden urge to forgo my typical subway ride and commute by foot across the Roebling family’s masterpiece to lower Manhattan. For as many times as I have walked across this bridge over the last 9 years, her magic is still never lost on me. So off I went.

“…no matter how you spin it, a Duane Reade receipt fashioned into a bow and tied to the bridge cannot amount to some kind of romantic overture, even if the receipt is for condoms.”

It was a gorgeous day, and there is nothing more awe inspiring (and creativity sparking) than walking beneath the bridge’s massive granite towers and soaking in the million dollar, 360 degree views she offers. Among the countless sights on the visual buffet surrounding me, I could see the Empire State Building to the north, the Statue of Liberty to my south, and Tower 1 staring me in the face to the west.

For the first time in a long time, I also saw a visible police presence on the bridge itself. Intimidating officers in dark blue uniforms with the word – COUNTERTERRORISM – emblazoned on their backs… one next to a police buggy, one on motorcycle, and two on foot. They are now stationed there thanks to what is being called “one of the most stunning security breaches in the city’s history” – when two weeks ago an unknown person or group managed to swap the American flags that fly atop the bridge for white ones.


As I hit the middle span of the bridge, between the two towers, what I didn’t see were the countless clusters of locks that had become an unfortunate part of its cabled metal landscape in recent years. I was ecstatic! Rest assured, these now infamous locks had no engineering importance or structural significance. They were run-of-the-mill Master locks and padlocks that tourists started latching on to the Brooklyn Bridge in the last two to three years as some sort of display of affection and statement of everlasting love. In other words, self-absorbed PDA, using the same hardware you use to keep your dirty gym clothes safe in the locker room. How sweet??? No… how infantile, disrespectful, and criminal (it’s called defacing public property).

And while these happy couples, drunk on love and panoramic views, are leaving their mark (like cats do with their urine), and creating fodder for their Instagram accounts, the Brooklyn Bridge continues to suffer unnecessary damage. Fortunately, the Transportation Department, which oversees New York City’s bridges, finally took note of this “trend” and cracked down. In fact, from July 2013 – May 2014 they claim to have removed “a whopping 5,600 of the latches from the 5,989-foot span.”


So as I’m reveling in the absence of these “love locks,” a tattered ribbon flapping in the wind catches my eye. Then another and another and another. Next thing you know, I am staring at a long straightaway section of bridge wall that is littered with ragged ribbons, toilet paper, plastic bags, paper receipts, and ear buds that have all been tied on, by hand.

I didn’t think it was possible, but the human desecration of the Brooklyn Bridge had reached a new low… THIS is what tourists have moved on to doing after the city’s lock-down on the locks!

So let me get this straight, you come to visit a world-renowned landmark – one that is often referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” one that has inspired all forms of art, one that took 14 years to build, one that over 20 people died constructing – and you pay your respects by tying your garbage on to it?

I stood there dumbfounded and continued to walk past the stretch of fluttering refuse. That’s when I saw three guys in orange vests and hard hats. I watched them painstakingly cutting and untying every piece of garbage left “lovingly” behind by legions of disrespectful tourists.

Brooklyn Brige_garbage 2

This certainly can’t be an expression of love like the locks were purported as being… no matter how you spin it, a Duane Reade receipt fashioned into a bow and tied to the bridge cannot amount to some kind of romantic overture, even if the receipt is for condoms.

So what is the personal statement behind this new tourist “trend?” Is it simply, “I’m trash!” because I’m not sure how else to view it.

I asked one of the men, who was in the process of untangling a pair of ear buds, if they do this every day, and he said, “Not every day, but a lot. It’s such a shame.” That’s a gross understatement, sir.

I am saddened by the complete lack of respect, and enraged by the enormous “me, me, me” ego that drives someone to do this… to consciously tie every day trash onto an engineering feat, a timeless work of art, all to say, “Hey world! I’ve been here.” Is this kind of deep need to feel significant, likely via the window of one’s various social media channels, really an excuse to defile a landmark?

So much for my peaceful morning commute across Emily Roebling’s beautiful Brooklyn Bridge. Fortunately for her, she’s not alive to witness this unthinkable desecration with her own eyes. Hopefully, our city’s new Mayor has HIS eyes open to the issue and will do something about it.


Jen Jones is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Women You Should Know.

  • Marge

    Very well said!! I felt your anguish as I read your article. Now let’s hope that the Mayor takes this desecration of our landmark seriously and really does something about it. This is vandalism and must be stopped.

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  • BKHeightser

    Maybe a little more credit is due to John and Washington? While Emily certainly saw to her husband and late father’s dreams, she merely served as an overseer, not the designer as John and Washington. Maybe those are some “Men You Should Know,” Ms. Jones.

    • Jen Jones

      BKHeighster – Assuming you are not a regular reader of Women You Should Know, allow me to clarify and correct a few points for you.

      The link under Emily’s name in the lead (and in the close) takes you to our original profile of her, in which we talk about John and Washington… how John “conceived of the idea” but sadly died of tetanus as his incredible bridge project was just getting underway; how Washington (John’s son) took over after his father’s untimely death, only to get decompression sickness from descending deep under the river’s surface into the bridge’s caissons, being left partially paralyzed and bed-ridden by 1872.

      Emily then stepped up and stepped in to see her father-in-law and husband’s “dream to fruition.” So we are extremely familiar with both of these men and aptly gave them the credit that they are due in that original post.

      You say Emily was “merely an overseer.” Based on what her massive job entailed, “merely” doesn’t quite fit in describing what she did to ensure the bridge’s continued construction and ultimate completion, when neither John or Washington could. The bridge took 14 years to complete, and Emily was the project’s “overseer”, to use your word, for 11 of those 14 years.

      As noted in our previous article, Emily took over for her husband Washington as the “first woman field engineer” – she would go onsite daily to give his orders to the crew, communicating with assistant engineers, funders, and the press, keeping records, and answering mail. What’s more, to better manage the project, she studied strength of material, street analysis, cable construction, and other engineering issues.

      As David McCullough wrote in his book, The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge… “By and by it was common gossip that hers was the great mind behind the great work and that this, the most monumental engineering triumph of the age, was actually the doing of a woman, which as a general proposition was taken in some quarters to be both preposterous and calamitous. In truth, she had by then a thorough grasp of the engineering involved.”

      So thank you very much for your abridged history lesson, but we’ve already taught that lesson in great detail, crediting both the 2 men and the 1 woman involved.

    • Dejuitsi

      @BKHeightser thoughts on the actual point of the article?

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  • Andrew Porter

    These are the same idiots who write their names on the bark of trees in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, or on statues and other monuments everywhere in the world. The next time I’m on the Bridge, maybe I’ll bring a pair of wire cutters…

    • Dejuitsi

      I’ll join you Andrew!

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