On this day in 1886 a man either did or didn’t jump from the Brooklyn Bridge into the East River. Of course you could argue that quite a lot of men didn’t jump from the Brooklyn Bridge on the twenty-third of July 1886, and you’d be right but I’m talking about one man in particular. His name was Steve Brodie.
The bridge, then known as the East River Bridge, had only opened three years earlier and had already claimed one life. The previous year a swimming instructor named Robert Emmet Odlum had attempted the same thing. He intended to prove that one did not die simply from falling, hoping to encourage people who were trapped in a burning building to jump into a net. Sadly,the jump killed him. Brodie began to brag that he could make the same jump and live to tell the tale. His reasons were not so altruistic. He took bets on his survival, including one from a man who offered to set him up in a bar in the Bowery if he lived.
Brodie never told anyone at what time of day he was going to make his 135 ft leap (the equivalent of a fourteen storey building) Witnesses only saw something fall from the bridge and Brodie was certainly pulled from the river by the captain of a passing barge. Many claimed that he had thrown a dummy from the bridge before swimming out from the bank and surfacing near the boat. The New York Times believed him though. They reported that he had practised by jumping from other bridges, piers and the masts of ships. Those who lost their bets were more sceptical but Brodie did collect around $200 dollars (which would be worth around $5,000 today) and also got to open that bar. His bar was decorated with a large painting of his supposed leap and an affidavit from the boat captain who had pulled him from the water. The floor was inlaid with silver dollars, just to make it extra flashy. He loved to tell his story to anyone that would listen, and in 1894 he starred in a Broadway play about his feat called On the Bowery.
Steve Brodie’s name became synonymous with taking a massive and stupid risk. There is even a Bugs Bunny cartoon about him. You can see it here, go on, it’s only about six minutes long. He may or may not also have made another leap from the Niagara Falls in 1889. Though people seem even more sceptical about that than they did about the first one. But you can read about it here.