In May of 1883, the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge was big international news. The bridge had been under construction for 13 years, and its unveiling was a highly anticipated event. Showman P.T. Barnum, never one to turn down a PR opportunity, offered authorities a novel way to show–and show off–the safety of the new bridge: He’d walk his troupe of elephants across it.
At first, his proposal was rejected. But in 1884, after a woman fell on the side stairs on the Manhattan side, causing a stampede that killed 12 people and making others wary that the bridge would collapse, Barnum’s “elephant walk” (the subject of a June, 2004 New Yorker cover) happened. It was to the amazement of New Yorkers who happened to catch the sight of 21 elephants, 7 camels, and 10 dromedaries (basically furry camels) trekking from the bottom of Cortlandt Street across the illuminated arches of the bridge, with Barnum’s celebrated seven-ton African elephant Jumbo bringing up the rear.
The New York Times wrote that the scene, a billboard-sized bit of advertisement for the showman’s American Museum and touring show, appeared to onlookers “as if Noah’s Ark were emptying itself over on Long Island,” and that Jumbo “waved his ears in acknowledgement” of cheers that went up when he reached Brooklyn.
- Vaults Under the Brooklyn Bridge Once Held Private Wine Cellars
- There’s a Cold War Bomb Shelter Hidden Under the Brooklyn Bridge
- An Abridged History of New York City’s Most Popular Bridges