Brooklyn, NY Brooklyn Bridge Disaster, May 1883

Brooklyn Bridge in 1899

A GANG OF NEW YORK ROUGHS,
who shouted out that they were members of an organization banded together by placing their arms across each others' shoulders, and in this way forming a solid line, they charged upon the rear of the dense mass, hooting like so many demons, and saying that "They would go through ____" and would soon pass that crowd. The result was that people upon the steps were being hustled so that they were in danger of falling, and they cried out in terror. Those directly behind them who were aware of the difficulty in passing the steps, tried vainly to hold those back who were pressing from behind, and at last when one unfortunate woman with a child in her arms, fainted with the heat and exertions she had been making, fell down unconscious upon the lower step there was a shout of horror broke out from a hundred throats. A second later and MR. FREDERICK E. PALE, who lives at 79 Henry street, in this city, fell over her, and in less time than it takes to write it there was a mixed heap of men, women and children piled up upon the steps. The shouts, groans, imprecations and agonized cries which filled the air, instead of appealing to the mercy and better judgment of the crowding throng, served only to excite it to a frenzy of fear. The thousands behind the steps - that is, between the steps and the bridge, who couldn't see what had happened, became panic stricken with the idea that the bridge had broken, and their first effort was to gain the solid walk upon the masonry, which was but a short distance ahead. Consequently, they rushed forward with that single object in view, hurling down upon the prostrate bodies those in front, and adding to the awful horror of the scene. Officer FREDERICK RICHARDS was the only one of the bridge policemen who was at that point at the time, and he had several times previous to the accident started the crowd moving. When the last jam occurred he was absolutely powerless. He, however, jumped upon the ironwork which protects the car track and quickly summoned a force of men. Word passed out to the police upon the New York approach that there was trouble on the bridge, and a few seconds later, men with blanched faces, and women almost dead with fright and with torn clothing, emerged from the throng and started for the New York exit. Then it was known that lives had been lost and a force of about thirty policemen, under command of two sergeants from the Twenty-sixth Precinct, in the New York City Hall, rushed upon the approach. There was no time to spare and no mild measures could be used. The clubs flew around incessantly and the crowd was at last got under control. Planks were placed over the ironwork above the tracks so as to facilitate people in making their escape from the jam. In this way the throng upon the walk was thinned. The police held firm possession of the space round the steps where the tragedy had occurred, and which were covered with a helpless, groaning, blood stained mass. Standing in position upon the iron work and upon every raised place the New York police were enabled to see how to manage the crowd, which had now become somewhat cooler in its manner, though of course greatly excited by the fact that lives had been lost. Those who wanted to come over to Brooklyn were ordered to take one side of the passage way in line, and those going to New York the other. As both crowds were passing the scene of the occurrence, the dead were laid in a row, their faces covered with their hats or some article of apparel, while the ambulances had come thundering along from New York, and were already taking away the wounded. The sight was one that has never been equaled for horror. The writhing, struggling mass of those on the fatal steps formed a picture that made the stoutest hearted turn pale. Man and women, with their limbs contorted and their faces purpling in their agonized efforts to breathe, were

HELD AS IN A VISE
by the struggling mass on top of them. The bridge officers, New York police and citizens who were close upon the steps, went to work with a will to help the wounded as soon as the pressing of the throng had ceased. Men and women were pulled out of the struggling mass with as much dispatch as possible. Such as were able to take care of themselves were placed sitting or standing near the railing and so that they could get air. Several gentlemen assisted the ambulance surgeons in making their examinations of the injured and in helping them to place them in the ambulances. A company of the Twelfth New York Regiment, which was on the bridge, did excellent work in helping to drag out the wounded, and when at last the dead, dying and injured had been taken away, and the bridge was clear by reason of the stoppage of travel at either end, the scene at the steps was even then sickening. All around the fatal spot was stained with blood. Hats crushed and battered, articles of jewelry trodden into a shapeless mass, trifles of women's wear, umbrellas and cases broken to pieces gave indications of the terrible struggle which had occurred. One stout Irish woman, who seemed to have an intuitive perception some minutes before the fatal rush that lives would be sacrificed, held up a child she had in her arms, shouting wildly for someone to save it. She had braced herself up against the railing, and she threw the most despairing glances all around to try and save her child. She was jostled with the throng, however, and at last was buried in the general crush. Those who were in the front ranks, with the effort at self preservation instinctively upon them locked arms and formed a barrier three and four deep at the edge of the steps. Then they tried to press the crowd back and the effort was futile. Then in the wild confusion which reigned could be seen man and women divesting themselves of every article they had which hindered them from using their hands in a struggle for safety. Baskets, umbrellas, canes, flowers, shawls and coats were being thrown about everywhere and only added to the general terror. The people who did the damage were those who were not in the slightest degree in any danger, for they were the people who composed the rear end of the surging crowd going to New York. If they had kept quiet all would have been well, but when the first shrieks of agony rent the air they seemed to be imbued with a fear that the danger was behind and not in front, hence they pressed ahead with desperate eagerness to get off the bridge proper and gain the roadway upon the anchorage. This forced the people down the steps, until both flights were covered with a bruised, bleeding and dying mass. The gates on the Brooklyn and New York ends were closed as quickly as possible, and no one was allowed to enter at either end until the police had cleared away all vestiges of the occurrence and the iron railing which had been crushed out of position had been temporarily replaced.

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