The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Manhattan Bridge Centennial Parade 1

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, on October 4th, a parade and fireworks show was produced for the Manhattan Bridge Centennial by the NYC Bridge Centennial Commission.

Having been involved with the Queensboro Centennial at the start of the summer, when I was asked to help out, I jumped at the chance and suddenly- I was a parade marshall. Several of my friends were drafted into service as well, including the redoubtable Mike Olshan (who is the safety vested and distant photographer seen in the shots above and below).

from wikipedia

The Manhattan Bridge is a suspension bridge that crosses the East River in New York City, connecting Lower Manhattan (at Canal Street) with Brooklyn (at Flatbush Avenue Extension) on Long Island. It was the last of the three suspension bridges built across the lower East River, following the Brooklyn and the Williamsburg bridges. The bridge was opened to traffic on December 31, 1909 and was designed and built by Polish bridge engineer Ralph Modjeski with the deflection cables designed by Leon Moisseiff, who later designed the infamous original Tacoma Narrows Bridge that opened and collapsed in 1940. It has four vehicle lanes on the upper level (split between two roadways). The lower level has three lanes, four subway tracks, a walkway and a bikeway. The upper level, originally used for streetcars, has two lanes in each direction, and the lower level is one-way and has three lanes in peak direction. It once carried New York State Route 27 and later was planned to carry Interstate 478. No tolls are charged for motor vehicles to use Manhattan Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A relict of the countercultural milieu of the 60’s and 70’s (as I am an atavist survival of the 70’s and 80’s), amongst other things, Coney Island Mike is the Newtown Pentacle’s go-to man on all things Red Hook and is associated with one of Forgotten-NY’s great finds- the Yellow Submarine at Coney Island Creek. This isn’t why I call him “Coney Island Mike”, the real reason lies in a filthy and obscene series of office jokes which are not worth repeating. A nocturne like myself, Mike was lured into the early morning sunlight by a promise of photographic access to a traffic free bridge before and upon completion of our function as Marshalls.


PLANNING “SUSPENSION BRIDGE NUMBER 3”: The Manhattan Bridge was first planned as a traditional wire-cable suspension bridge to be used exclusively by trains. In 1892, elevated railway magnate Frederick Uhlmann proposed this span just north of the present site of the Manhattan Bridge. The bridge was planned in conjunction with another one of his proposals, the Williamsburg Bridge. While Uhlmann’s railroad bridge was never constructed, the Williamsburg Bridge was approved in 1895 to handle mixed traffic.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Marshall duties are loosely defined as “keep people away from the edge of the bridge”, “keep the crowd moving on schedule”, and “if you have a problem, hand it over to NYPD”. This is the second time that I’ve witnessed how the City organizes this sort of event- the elaborate choreography of the DOT, NYPD’s matter of fact event scheduling, and the thousands of bureaucratic details which were handled by the Bridge Committee’s capable directors.


Daily, the bridge accommodates some 75,000 vehicles, 320,000 mass transit riders and 3000 pedestrians/bicyclists between Manhattan and Brooklyn. It supports seven lanes of vehicular traffic as well as four subway tracks upon which four transit train lines operate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Parade is still an hour or so off, and everyone you see gathered in the shot above is either a Parade Marshall, NYPD, DOT, or one of the dignitaries marching in the Parade. Also, 2 “classic cars” were arranged to carry either Political Leaders or members of the podium presentations who were unable to walk the steep incline of the bridge due to age or infirmity.


On July 23, a two-minute time-lapse video of the Manhattan Bridge, undulating under traffic, appeared on YouTube. It got 140,000 hits in the first week, and the media, always short on engineering majors, gave it lots of play. WPIX news aired a clip, and Morning Joe played it to uneasy oohs and aahs from its co-hosts. The website Gawker posted it under the headline “The Manhattan Bridge Is Falling Down” (later clarifying that it had been a joke). In fact, suspension bridges are supposed to move, in multiple dimensions. The century-old Manhattan Bridge is in the final stages of a rehab that began in 1982, when it was actually in danger of collapsing. It’ll bounce, without incident, for years to come.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The crowd began to thicken around Canal street at the corner of Bowery. Complicating the Marshall duties would be the large number of Senior Citizens from Chinatown, who- we were told- would speak absolutely no english at all. Nobody could tell me how to say “stay away from the edge of the bridge” in Cantonese. Concurrently, gathering steam on the Brooklyn side of the bridge, the other half of the parade was just beginning their journey, but our trip to the podium was shorter than theirs, so we left a bit later.


A helicopter and police boat rushed to the East River near the Main Street section of Brooklyn Bridge Park this afternoon, where a man miraculously survived after jumping from the Manhattan Bridge. A firefighter at the scene in DUMBO told us it was believed to be a suicide attempt, but it was unclear how the man had survived the fall into the icy waters and was still able to walk to a waiting ambulance.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Finally happened. There’s my shadow, dead center, in the above shots. Photographic evidence that I exist, or at least that I’m really still alive and not just some disembodied “point of view” floating around New York. It’s an odd thing, I can take a photo of a totally reflective surface and not appear in the shot, but I don’t do it on purpose. In all of these shots I post, such shadows or reflections appear in maybe 5 shots, only once on purpose (I needed an “about the artist” shot for something, and shot my shadow draping over an LIC sewer).


It has no song celebrating a groovy stroll across its length, nor has it inspired literary reflections (although it is a popular suicide spot in Steve Martin’s 1984 movie The Lonely Guy). The Manhattan Bridge may lack the lore of the Brooklyn and Queensboro, but viewed from a flattering angle, the sweeping steel suspension bridge is undeniably beautiful. The impressive stone archway on the Manhattan side, modeled on the 17th-century Porte St-Denis in Paris, was designed by New York Public Library architects Carrère and Hastings, while the Brooklyn approach once boasted allegorical statues representing the two boroughs designed by Lincoln Memorial sculptor Daniel Chester French (they now reside in the Brooklyn Museum).

(full disclosure- above shot was from a couple of days earlier) – photo by Mitch Waxman

The last paragraph actually sounds crazy to me, can’t imagine what speculations it unleashes in you- Lords and Ladies of Newtown. As I’ve mentioned in the past, your humble narrator is all ‘effed up, and the Manhattan Bridge has some actual personal history associated with it. I will admit that I was honored to be part of this event, and happy that I got to share it with several friends, old and new.

Then, the drums rolled…


The Manhattan side of the subway tracks originally were connected as follows: The north side tracks to the BMT Broadway Subway at Canal Street; the south side tracks to the BMT Nassau Street subway north of Chambers Street. The south side tracks were used mostly during rush hour for services provided via the Nassau Street loop (which connected the BMT 4th Avenue and BMT Brighton Line to Manhattan via the Manhattan Bridge on the north end and the Montague Street tunnel on the south end). The configuration of the tracks at the Manhattan side was changed in 1967 as part of a large project known as the Chrystie Street connection. This project severed the connection to the under-used Nassau Street line on the south side. The south side tracks were then connected to the BMT Broadway Line, and the north side tracks connected via new construction to the IND 6th Avenue Line.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

And, this being my second Parade, I can be confident in saying- when the drums roll and the band (in this case the NY Chinese School Marching Band) marches, the Parade is begun.

More tomorrow…

and- just as a note- today is the anniversary of the Ratification of the United States Bill of Rights in 1791.

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 15, 2009 at 3:52 am

5 Responses

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  1. […] in the parade, I encountered a community affairs officer of the NYPD I had met during the Manhattan Bridge Centennial planning meetings, and after I reminded him of our amiable conversations- he shepherded me into the […]

  2. […] Manhattan Bridge Centennial Parade 1 […]

  3. […] on the Queensboro Bridge and Madison Avenue Bridge centennials, was a parade marshall for the Manhattan and Hunters Point Avenue Bridge events, and as mentioned – helped organize the Access Queens […]

  4. […] got Leo Moiseff’s showstopper on the north side spanning the East River – the Manhattan Bridge – but everybody always forgets about the one on the south side – the Marine Parkway-Gil […]

  5. […] DOT Commissioner Jeanette Sadik-Khan on the City’s centennial celebrations for the Queensboro, Manhattan, Madison Avenue, and Hunters Point Avenue Bridges. Bernie almost missed the latter one, and he […]

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