After the Brooklyn Bridge was built, the question in everyone’s mind was “who is going to be the first idiot to jump off this thing?” It turns out that the idiot’s name was Robert Odlum. He was a swimming instructor living in the DC area, and thought he was just the man for the job. The NYPD caught wind of what he was trying to do, and really tried to persuade him out of it. They even posted more cops on the bridge to prevent Odlum’s jump. But, Odlum was too smart for them! He rode up in a carriage that had the windows blacked out so the police couldn’t see him, and when he was halfway across the bridge, he jumped out and off. The police tried to stop him, but he was too fast. He then struck a superman-esque pose with one arm out above his head, and the other by his side for the 135-foot drop. He died. Messily.
But, we aren’t here to talk about Odlum, we want to talk about Steve Brodie. Brodie was a 23-year-old bookmaker and compulsive gambler. He was broke, and decided to jump off the bridge in order to make some money. To me, it seems like Brodie was thinking, “Step one: jump off the bridge Step 2: ? Step three: Profit!”, but Mortiz Herzber, who was a liqueur dealer, offered to back a saloon if Brodie jumped off the bridge and survived. So he did! On July 23, 1886 was fished out of the East River, claiming to have jumped the bridge.
He was thrown in jail for the night, but released with no charges. Over night, he became a New York celebrity. He was able to open a saloon on Grand Street, which became a huge tourist attraction. A true narcissist, the bar was filled with paintings of Brodie jumping off the bridge. All the newspapers and tabloids wanted a piece of him, and he was all too pleased to give it to them.
Soon after, Brodie launched an acting career, where he would portray himself. He was in a show called On the Bowery, where the final scene of the show was him jumping off the bridge to save a little girl. He traveled all around the states, performing his feat over and over again. Brodie spent the rest of his life milking this claim to fame for every penny he could get out of it, eventually dying at age 38 from diabetes.
Now, the funny part of this story — Brodie never actually jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge. It was all a scam. What most likely took place was Brodie had a bunch of his buddies go on the bridge with a dummy. Brodie then swam out in the river, and gave the signal for the dummy to be thrown of the side. When it hit the water, he had a boat pick him up and bring him to shore, yelling as loud as he could that “he did it”. Funny thing was this jump that killed Odlum a few months earlier, had not left a scratch on Brodie — he said that his side hurt a little, but there were no visible bruises. The only people who witnessed this feat were all his buddies, who were all like “oh yeah, Steve totally did it! For reals!” No one else saw him do it. Did Brodie ever jump? Not so much.
But, we are still talking about Brodie today. Movies were made about him, his saloon was a huge success, even Looney Tunes made a great cartoon about Brodie in 1949 called ‘Bowery Bugs’. (You can find it online here— its cute, with just a dash of the Looney Tunes racism.) What could have been one of the worst get rich quick schemes ever, turned out to be an international sensation. Moral of the story — please don’t jump off the bridge, just fake it.
Come on our tour Brooklyn Bridge: New York’s Treasure Trove to learn more about Steve Brodie and all the other people that made this Bridge so incredible!