Facial Hair Friday: The Brooklyn Bridge

Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren, ca. 1860-ca. 1865 (ARC Identifier 528633)
Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren, ca. 1860-ca. 1865 (ARC Identifier 528633)

It’s a nineteenth-century twist on six degrees of separations–except Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren isn’t connected to Kevin Bacon. Along with his mustache and soul patch, he’s two degrees of separation from the Brooklyn Bridge.

Warren was one of 12 children. His sister Emily came to visit him at his headquarter when he was commanding the Fifth Army Corps. Washington Roebling was one of Warren’s staff. He and Emily met, fell in love, and were married a year later.

Washington Roebling was the son of John Roebling, the designer of the Brooklyn Bridge. He and his new wife Emily were in Germany when he received the news that his father had died of tetanus. The couple returned to New York where Roebling took over the project as chief engineer.

Roebling may have survived the Battle of Gettysburg (where from a hot air balloon he saw the advance of Lee’s army) but the Brooklyn Bridge nearly killed him.

Roebling developed decompression sickness–“the bends”–from working in the watertight environment caissons for the bridge piers, where the atmosphere was compressed.

With her husband confined to bed, Emily began to manage the project. The Rensselaer website notes that she went beyond simple management: “She carried out all written communication and face-to-face interviews with contractors with a thorough grasp of the engineering.” On Roebling’s behalf, she addressed when the American Society of Civil Engineers when it seemed her husband might be removed from his position.

Both Roeblings were present for the opening of the bridge. At the time of its completion in 1883, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world at 6016 feet.

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