tv Chief Engineer CSPAN July 29, 2017 11:05pm-11:56pm EDT
series has been going on for several years we've been participating and it's a wonderful program that brings together various booksellers and they are allowed to program monday and july and august and they are to be the first one in the series. i would like to thank those that currently run the program here and the next is the powerhouse arena speaking and reading. so a little about this book and erica wagner. as you can tell just from the backdrop here this is a great topic for.
to the other poets and writers and of david mccullough there have been inspired writing on the subject and erica is out there over the others. what she's done with this biography is remind everyone how he was the son of the designer and the person along with his wife who got it through a dozen or so years to the end coming upon hundred 50 years ago when his father died just up here and the young 32-year-old and brilliantly brought it to life. >> a little bit about ithaca.
it came out of many years ago and had a career the last three decades in the uk even though she is a new yorker by birth and has been a critic and a literary editor and was an editor for a long time at the london times and contributing writer. she's come over to england to speak to us today and i hope you will get a round of applause to erica. [applause] i'm going to put this down.
thank you so much. i'm thrilled to be here and it is hard to imagine a better backdrop for my talk this evening. i am never not moved when i looked at this bu which perhaps you won't be surprised to hear that i will explain to you a little bit why that is. that is how i became involved in washington's story and i'm going to tell you a little bit about the time and then i might read you a little bit from the book itself.
i carry the picture in my wallet. the man who built the brooklyn bridge as it says on the cover of my book but not just any picture, the one i kept with me since i was 19-years-old. in case you were wondering, i'm 49 now. it's a photograph taken in 1861 where at the age of 24 they just joined the union army. so when i was still a teenager, i photocopied it from a book in the new york public library. i have an envelope to keep it safer and i wrote on the envelope washington's initials. make what you will of that. a strange story perhaps so i
will elaborate somewhat. i grew up across the river on the upper west side and have to admit i never stepped on the brooklyn bridge until it wa i wa teenager. i got myself a boyfriend, a young english civil engineer who came to visit me in new york one winter but in truth it wasn't really me. i was struck with wonder by the bridge and it was no bad thing i have someone with me who could explain how it really worked. the boyfriend did with boyfriends do, he disappeared but there you go. however, my fascination with the bridge remained. how did it get there, who made
it. i began to read all i could about it and that is when i met washington. i read hamilton's early biography, i rea a red letters, technical reports, articles and finally the shocking biography of washington wrote of his father. i heard his voice as clear as a bell in my head e. racing the century that separated us. i am and always have been a writer and i've never been an engineer. washington spoke to me as one to another. there seemed to be he wanted me to speak for him.
of that war was only one of the many challenges that this extraordinary man my face, a man who was born in et and 37 on the front year and who died in 1926. his life was the life that spanned an american century. he was a man who made an american icon, a bridge that has not only served the commuters and tourists for nearly a century and a half but inspired poets and painters and photographers to georgia o'keefe to walker percy. but who was this man and why do i care about him so much? i want to show you and i want you to care.
so i need you to know what an unprecedented feat the brooklyn bridge was. a bridge with the spam that would not be passed for 50 years not until the building of the george washington bridge using a dangerous new technology one that washington pioneered at great cost to himself. the famous engineer who had bridge to be niagara falls and river in cincinnati and at that time many people fought to bridge the east river was impossible but if anyone should be the man to accomplish the feat, john roebling was batman and then one day in the summer
of 1869 before any work had been started before very many plans have been made, he had what seemed to be a minor accident just over there. before two weeks have passed, he was dead. a horrible death from toughness and it was left to his son to take over the work. washington has built bridges for the army during the war and had supervised the work on his father's ohio page with all of his expertise, he had been his fault his lieutenant but now john roebling was no more. the great powers meant golfing silhouettes and recognizable all over the world are set on foundations deep beneath the east river. those foundations were sunk
using air chambers on the river bed. inside, hundreds of men dug out sand and stone that built the great tower above. it is launched from the doc and then sunk in to settle beneath the surface of the water. they would let in men and material and bring the waste material as the men head down towards the bedrock far below. it is made of wood lay your upon layer to pump compressed air into the chamber.
it's like deep sea diving. come up to fast from the atmosphere and you get very sick indeed. this is called decompression sickness but in the 19th century when the products such as the brooklyn bridge symptoms begin to appear nitrogen bubbles cause agonizing pain, paralysis and sometimes death. but i was only one of the dangers faced in this great work. the roof of this, remember, was made of wood and deep underwater it caught fire. after the alma mater and his
remarkable document with a note written first in paper then ink in the hand that is almost completely legible despite the passage of time and the haste in which it is composed. it begins with one word, fire. throughout his life, washington would write on any available scrap of paper on the back of old stationery, old bills and random slips. here's one evidence of attention and exhaustion, the need to keep every detail in his mind. if reads now almost a kind of urgent poetry.
he could only reach the box by stepping up on the frame when she would hold a candle with his right hand and reach into the box. the man was called mcdonald and once he had seen the whole bird through the one he filled it with pastor to conceal his plunder and soon disappeared and hasn't been seen since. but in the atmosphere. it had no effect, the desperate remedy had to be tried. there was nothing for it to buto flood from above that such a plan was more than just risky. if the error should all be out
beforheldbefore the water had re roof, the result would be a sudden drop and the destruction of all support by the weight of 28,000 tons besides running the risk of causing them to me so badly as to render the reinstallation impossible. washington has never been a man to stay at his desk the chief engineer was 33-years-old at the work site as much or more as anyone i worked for him. they began to take the toll on washington and he had a team of assistants under him but the decision such as this were his alone and all the considerations had to be carefully weighed and the risks looked at before being given the order to flood there was no intelligent mind to
consult with as all of my assistants make it a point to live 3 miles away from the work so cannot be on hand in case of an emergency, he wrote with not a little bitterness. in the meantime i had been down for seven hours and began to experience that feeling in a small and lower limbs that perceived paralysis. fight your boats were called. 1,350,000 gallons of water were poured down and it remained flooded for two and a half days. it settled by only 2 inches when the water was eventually comes out the damage had to be painstakingly repaired. after the seven hours down he
had to be taken home and road for an hour on the spine with salt and whiskey. he had tried to rest but expected to hear the message that it was burning yet. he recovered. whether it was the salt and whiskey that did the trick for being away from the case on we don't know. we don't know if his wife tended to him or how much he would have seen of his 3-year-old son. what we do know is nothing stopped him from his task. every day brought new challenges and new uncertainties. washington might call all of this simply doing his job but considering the strength of mind to do that job is what draws us back to brooklyn high with smoke
and whiskey to find washington back at his desk. there was still no end of solution to be found. the construction of the brooklyn bridge took 14 years. during those years, his health continued to worsen. it is an astonishing story in and of itself. when it finally opened in may of 1883 there was a celebration such as the cities of new york and brooklyn had never seen and perhaps have never seen from that day to this. but this is only part of the remarkable life. in order to trace the life i have spent hours in the archives and i leapt through the college
votes. i read his love letters and his beloved old dog. i traveled to the pretty little town of saxon verb where washington grew up in which remains astonishingly pretty much as it was when he wrote it in the 1830s. i walk across the battlefield at gettysburg. i went to coldspring cemetery where washington and annalee are ferried. on her gravestone he had three words inscribed, gifted, noble, true. it has been a wonderful journey and i've built my own bridge from the past the present.
i am inspired by his tenacity and strength of his. if a problem was put in front of him he wouldn't rest until it is sold. his life is in many ways the privileged one but also one marked by brutality and discard by the war of more than one kind and nonetheless he persisted always when i felt discouraged, he's given me courage. when i want to give up, she helps me to go on. i know that nothing can beat them differently at the trial and i know that each day brings little experiences which is honest intentions lead to profession after a while so that
is just a little bit about how this structure came to be with some but not much alteration from that day to this. i thought i could read you a little from the book as i mentioned in my talk. emily roebling washington's wife was a truly remarkable woman. when he became very ill in the 1870s, the episode i wrote to you was the beginning of his sickness he got much sicker than that in 1873 and 75 he thought he would die. he didn't. he remained in control of the bridge but emily was his extraordinary amanuensis helping him going down to the bridge
site. during the politics washington didn't really like any way himself and wouldn't have been good at. she was an astonishing woman in her right and she met him in the civil war which is also a fascinating period so i thought i would tell you a little bit about their meeting. so, they met not long after the battle of gettysburg. that was in july if the team 63. in very late november and early december 1863, general meade made an attempt to strike at the right flank of the confederate army in the field fortifications prepared in the little valley proven to be a match for the
union army as washington himself along with genital wart in his commander officer discovered personally at the break of dawn by whites of the moon, we crawled on our knees up to the work and found them fully and high and strong built the year before no assault could have succeeded. assaults could have succeeded. 10,000 men would have been slaughtered. it was lost when the works were unoccupied and we could have walked in but waited for nothing. february 221864, washington found himself invited to a ball. you know the third quarter had a ball six weeks since. l. via his closes by his closesn such matters. the evening was a spectacular
success. our supper costs $1,500 wa $1,5r a shiite parties in washington the most prominent were present. the streaking politically powerful daughter. the senator from new hampshire but these women were not the reason for washington's letter to his sister. last but not least was the sister of the general who came from west point to attend the ball and it was the first time i ever saw her and i'm very much of the opinion that he's captured your brother's heart at
last. it came without any realization without immigrants taking place and it was therefore all the more successful and i assure you it gives me the greatest pleasure to say that i have succumbed. what they said to each other that night and the way they danced, what she was wearing, the gleam of the candlelight on the tunic, all of this is lost but washington's wines to his sister are true and clear but he wasn't ready for the news to get out. don't go like a goose and showed this to everyone he admonished his younger sister. you are my favorite sister just as she is the general's favorite sister and you can appreciate my feelings. i appreciate yours in reading thiand readingthis letter and ar answer with impatience. he added a postscript just the
kind of detailed the young man notes about his beloved she gets a sore throat once in a while and is additionally charming. he find himself off your affectionate brother, wash. thank you very much. [applause] >> i think we are going to take some questions. we will ask people to come up to the microphone. >> so you have to be quite bra brave. any first questions? >> i told you everything you want to know? i must be wonderful.
it was completed in 1883. 134 years ago. that was pretty spectacular. >> i think we have a roving microphone. can you come down? >> i was very touched by the passage at the end of his life. did you come across the original documentation for that? the question as the gentleman said he was very moved at the end of the end of washington's roebling's wife he died
89-years-old and one of his last letters she wrote about a lover that he saw that moved him very much and he wanted to know if i saw the original documentation for this. yes, i did, and the remarkable thing in writing this book is having the privilege to be not only that but all of the documentation set up his long ts long life is one of the great pleasures of being in the archive is feeling that you are holding the pieces of paper that your subjects held it's interesting to think generations from now nobody write letters anymore and it will be a very different thing and they will take the liberty of adding you come across extraordinary
unexpected things when you were doing this research, so when i was at rdi, the letter that you are describing there are records of some land that his father bought in the 1850s and 1860s and he decided he was also going to be a farmer in the territory that he bought this land from former soldiers and the soldiers bought the land at a very cheap rate. the catch was if you want to sell the land to somebody else, the president had signed the
deed. he bought some land in august of 1861 and i think it is going to be a pretty boring file and i'm not really interested in this anyway and there's the bold signature of abraham lincoln. that's not the kind of moment you have in the archive and it's extraordinary to think when he signed it for 150 acres for a tiny parcel of land at the civil war had been going on for four or five months and he was still having to do all this paperwork he still had to sign them off so that is why it is amazing working in an archive. long question. i hope you don't mind. did mle have any formal training?
she'd just learned on the job. >> he was very incapacitated. his site was badly affected and he couldn't stand to be around anybody at all except for her so he took all, given everything that had happened then had to be communicated by writing and you couldn't call anybody on the phone and explained what needed to be done. to the trustees and the assistant engineers you can tell if you know his writing well as i do, that is his writing, his voice but at some point in the late 1875 i think as i recall, it is no longer his handwriting.
also, it is important to note that her older brother, washington's commanding officer loved her very much and i'm usually believe said he had paid for her to go to school and a good school so she was well equipped to do this. is there any documentation? >> she was a forceful woman, a remarkable woman and there is a plaque of her on the bridge. >> this young man up here.
andrew smith did not figure out how he almost did, what was causing this illness but he didn't try to tend to them in part of the problem was you couldn't keep hold of the men. they try to rush off home and there were no unions it was a very casual labor force. there were other kinds of accidents. the men who move delete could use the cables, a lot of them were accustomed to working high up. so as i say on any worksite the safety and security was never a
top priority. >> is a gentle man in front here. thank you very much. >> i wonder if that helps catalyze into one place. >> how much did the completion of the bridge neede lead to the identification of new york and brooklyn and the growth as a city because a lot of it was from the 1860s. if i could speak to some of that a little bit, so yes absolutely
is the answer before the bridge was built. they were made every year and of course the ferries couldn't run if it was icy and there were accidents, so the brooklyn bridge was the beginning of the linking of manhattan and absolutely is led to the further growth of brooklyn and. brooklyn became a part of greater new york, said it was absolutely true that the brooklyn bridge played a crucial role in that process. anyone else? >> it have to be adjusted.
it's had quite a few adjustments over the years. the main one was in late 1940s, early 1950s. the photograph of the brooklyn bridge before that time, there is a very beautiful photograph of the brooklyn bridge, the span of the bridge taken in 1925 by a man called irving. he loved the photograph and got a hold of it the year before he died and he is written on the back of the print. you can see that the work around the roadway looks a little more delicate.
you can't drive a truck over the brooklyn bridge so it's still has a ways limit and of course when it opened. it was almost like a little cable car that went back and forth and you can see they stopped running in the 50s and there's actually a remarkable film. if you go onto the library of congress website, edison brooklyn bridge, you will see a little movie taken in 1898 so one of the earliest ever taken.
in a train went from brooklyn to new york and it was amazing little things. you can't put a little movie in anda book and i was sorry i couldn't get back in. it had a half a billion dollar facelift. i think that new york from the people i've talked to tend to be better if looking at infrastructure. that goes to show how bad a lot of it is around the country that we have quite a lot of famous infrastructure. people know you have to look after the brooklyn bridge. part of the reason that it withstood those changes is because when it was designed, it was designed to be stronger than it needed to be at the time so they were designed to be six times as strong as they needed
to be to hold up the bridge. anybody else? suspension bridge building was still in its infancy. lots of people thought that it wasn't possible to build this bridge and such a thing couldn't be done. if it have to b be too big and o heavy and nothing could possibly hold this up so i believe that it was partly to convince people to say it's not going to fall
down. if you look at contemporary newspapers of the time, we have a gentle man here representing the brooklyn eagl evil as a gret supporter from its earliest days thought that this was a great idea so you can see an article that was presented to the publ public. >> what did they do between 1883 and 1926? >> you have to read the book. but i will tell you a little. again it is a good question because he never built another bridge. his health was very badly affected and it is hard to know how much of what afflicted him
was physical and how much was psychological. i think you have to be. he suffered very badly and wasn't involved in the family firm. the family made their fortunes in the wire that supports the brooklyn bridge although the main cable wasn't made for mobile and wired john roebling patented it in america. it looks like growth but it's made of lawyer and of course enabled not just suspension bridges to be built, the elevators, telegraph, telephone, airplanes, automobiles. it was a hugely important product for the growth of the united states and the world in
the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. he thought the company was the biggest in the united states to manufacture. washington was very involved in the company and he also was a geologist and mineral character and he gave it after he died. it is the foundation of their remarkable collection but when he was involved in the family firm he didn't take a salary he just advised his brothers and kept an ion what was going on. in 1921, despite complaining all his life and his terrible health, he outlived one younger brother and another younger
brother, two of his nephews and at the age of 84 he took over the presidency and ran it for four years to the office every single day and modernized the company in the years before his death. how did they manage to come is there a company now? the depression did affect them, but it was family firms gradually got swallowed up by huge conglomerates. that is the story. the family firm held out for much longer than many firms
often do and if you ever find yourself near trenton new jersey, i urge you to visit the museum which is about 10 miles and is a gorgeous little museum on the site of the former and it's really lovely and it's in a beautiful sight because the middle of all cleaned up so there is a very beautiful park there as well. you have hinted that washington was traumatized by his father and that he wrote about that. we need to read the book to find out more? >> i hinted that he was traumatized by his father, john. yes, he was traumatized by his father, john. then he was an older man in his 50s and then in his 70s,
washington sat down to write a biography of his father. it should be said that washington really admired his father. he believed his father was a great man, and john was a great man. he was one of those giants of the century that have visions of their people didn't have come he had extraordinary energy and drive. he built a whole industry from nothing and washington admired this tremendously which is why he sat down to write a biography of his father but the extraordinary thing about the manuscript that vanished for a long time is that he couldn't help writing about himself. he keeps writing about himself in his childhood and the civil war but when he writes about himself and his childhood was he also can't help writing about is
his father's shocking brutality. it's really frightening to read. now of course it is one man's account. that's what i felt reading it is i thought of washington roebling in his 50s at the age of 70 by this point he was an extremely wealthy and successful man and the first citizen of trenton living in this enormous mansion on state street, this incredible house, enormously well-respected and yet there were these terrible memories that came up so you never know what goes on in a family but in washington's
mind and heart and soul, this stuff was right there for him but it's easy to read because it is not just this horror show. he keeps coming back to that and wants to persist with this important account of his father's life. [applause] >> i just want to say thank you to everyone for coming out and thank you to erica. i want to stress as great a historian and biographer you are a wonderful writer and what you're missing by not reading this book is quite a bit, so please hang around if you would like a copy of the book we have copies here, and don't forget next monday there will be another event for books at the bridge. thank you again. [applause]
what i am reading is a commentary on enrollments and the reason i'm reading it is because first of all it was given to me i'm part of a bible study here in the capital, and/or teacher, doctor scott was the president of the reformed seminary here in washington, d.c., he's teaching us on romans and he gave this wonderful commentary -- i've read biblical commentaries before, and they can give you like a