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Wouldn’t it be funny if they just left it this way? Image via New York Public Library

Today marks the first day of construction of the engineering masterpiece, The Brooklyn Bridge. New Yorkers are mostly familiar with how great the bridge was for our city, and how it paved the way for the unification of the five boroughs. However, the construction and opening of this bridge were far from easy processes. The bridge was finally completed with much excitement in 1883 (marked by an actual stampede that killed 12).

Immigrants were paid $2 a day to work long hours in the underwater construction of the bridge. The workers, who were known as “sandhogs,” had  to clear away the mud and boulders at the bottom of the East River, reaching down to the bedrock. The “sandhogs” worked in pressurized air containers which brought on headaches, itchy skin, bloody noses, and slowed heart-beat. Working in such a condition also brought on what was known as “caisson disease” whose symptoms included paralysis, convulsions, numbness, speech impediments and sometimes death.

The fatal panic and stampede happened only a week after its opening. A woman tripped and fell while descending wooden stairs on the Manhattan side of the bridge, causing another woman to release a monstrous scream. Already skeptic of suspension bridges after hearing many stories of failed bridges in Europe, those who saw this commotion assumed the bridge was falling down. The chaos escalated until 20,000 people on the bridge were all running for their lives trying to escape down those tiny stairs. People were left suffocating disfigured, and even killed.

Today of course, it’s much more pleasant to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Read about our walk across the great bridge with Broadcastr.

Read more from our column On this Day in NYC History, and get in touch with its author @Arentyousokool.