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Jim Bourg / Reuters

Brooklyn Bridge in New York

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Upon completion in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was the world's longest and swankiest suspension bridge; at 5,989 feet, it was 50 percent longer than any other span. And for a while in the late 1800s, its towers were the tallest structures in the Western Hemisphere, at 276 feet 6 inches. The architect, John Augustus Roebling, died of tetanus after his foot was pinned against a pylon during a site survey; his son, Washington Augustus Roebling, resumed the project. As a result of spending so much time in an underwater chamber filled with compressed air, the younger Roebling was stricken with "the bends" and suffered permanent health damage.

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What's special: Everyone thought Roebling was nuts when he engineered the bridge and its truss system to be six times stronger than it needed to be. As a result of that foresight and ingenuity, it's one of the few bridges of its era to remain standing. It set a foundation for future long-span bridges, thanks to the use of steel cables.

And it helps that it's not ugly or in an unsightly place. The stone towers are Gothic beauties, and the bridge provides neck-craning, silvery, atmospheric views of Lower Manhattan.

One thing you didn't know: The cables that run diagonally from the bridge towers to the deck proved to be unnecessary, but designers left them to add to its style.

Best way to see it: Strap on your Nikes and go for a walk. An elevated wood-plank walkway in the center of the bridge keeps you safe from vehicular traffic. If you plan to go only one way, start on the Brooklyn side so you can soak in the Manhattan approach. Take the C train to High Street/Brooklyn Bridge or the 2 or 3 to Clark Street. Easiest access points for pedestrians are at the end of Centre Street in Manhattan and Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn.

If you don't want to walk across the bridge, check it out from Pier 1 at the Fulton Ferry landing in Brooklyn at sunset.

What to expect: Walks across the bridge can be perilous, but not because of wind or vibrations or loose boards; it's because the in-line skaters and cyclists whiz by at top speed. Stick to the right and you'll make it just fine. Depending on your pace, the walk can take 40 minutes or so.

Where to eat: People wait in line for an hour to get into Grimaldi's Brooklyn Bridge Pizzeria (19 Old Fulton St.), almost immediately under the bridge. Afterward, head over to a defunct fireboat house that's home to the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory (2 Old Fulton St.).

More info: 718-802-3846, http://www.visitbrooklyn.org.


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