The Story of the Brooklyn Bridge Jumper, Now Buried in Queens

bsQ_1017_brodie001

Wandering around Calvary Cemetery is often a revelatory experience, and while perambulating through the hallows of Section 9 not so long ago, the shock of sudden recognition nearly laid me low. While scanning the monolith studded landscape, the name of one of history’s most famous New Yorkers suddenly appeared before me, chiseled in granite.

Steve Brodie… The man who jumped from the Brooklyn Bridge and lived to talk about it.

Steve_Brodie

Steve Brodie, photo courtesy Wikipedia

Also from Wikipedia:

Steve Brodie (December 25, 1861 – January 31, 1901) was an American from New York City who claimed to have jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge and survived on July 23, 1886. The resulting publicity from the supposed jump, whose veracity was disputed, gave Brodie publicity, a thriving saloon and a career as an actor.

Brodie’s fame persisted long past his death, with Brodie portrayed in films and with the slang terms “taking a Brodie” and “Brodie” entering the language for “taking a chance” and “suicidal leap.”

bsQ_1017_brodie002

There weren’t just three major newspapers in 1886, there were hundreds, and the proto “media” ate up Steve Brodie’s story, turning him into a celebrity. From all accounts, Brodie found every advantage offered by fame — opening a swank saloon on the Bowery and starring in a popular play about his exploits.

He would always be known as the “Bridge Jumper.”

From the New York Times: “A tall, slim man, who looked very much like an overgrown street boy, stood talking to a young woman at the New York end of the Brooklyn bridge a little after 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon. He bade her good-bye and kissed her.”

bsQ_1017_brodie003

The scourge of the 19th century was “consumption,” or as we call it “tuberculosis,” and Brodie took ill. Like other “lungers,” it was thought that the dry air of the southwest would aid him in fighting the affliction and he packed off for San Antonio in Texas.

That’s where, and how, he died.

Also from the New York Times: “The body was taken to Calvary Cemetery for burial. A crowd of 500 or 600 men, women, and children, attracted by curiosity remained in the streets during the services at the house, and many of them followed the funeral cortege to Ninety Second Street Ferry on its way to the cemetery.”

bsQ_1017_brodie004

It is a real shame that someone has decided to pry the probable white bronze marker from the monument, which would have occurred in the empty oval space directly above the names and dates which remain. Such is the case though, and there are many instances of such theft not just at Calvary but at all the cemeteries which comprise the cemetery belt of western Queens.

It’s pretty low to steal from the dead, in one humble narrator’s opinion.

An interesting analysis of whether or not Mr. Brodie actually made his jump was published by “The Day” in 1986. Click here for the article by Larry McShane.

As a note, Steve Brodie and his story actually turn up in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, 1949′s “Bowery Bugs.”

Stevebrodie1

Steve Brodie, photo courtesy Wikipedia

Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman lives in Astoria and blogs at Newtown Pentacle.