The fanfare has died since 1883 when fireworks marked the city's first—and at the time, the world's largest—suspension bridge. But the behemoth of steel, granite, and wood that finally united the cities of Brooklyn and Manhattan remains a majestic, oft-elegized symbol of New York City's spirit of enterprise. Its 13-year, $18 million construction was marked by political squabbles, engineering innovation, and over 20 deaths, including those of chief engineer John Augustus Roebling and later his son and successor Washington, who contracted decompression sickness while working in one of the dangerous underground cylinders used to build the bridge's foundation.
Today, the mile-long stroll across the Great East River Bridge is almost as exhilarating as it was for those first pedestrians who crossed the bridge having never walked above water before. Despite the cars speeding on either side several feet below, the central, elevated walkway’s communal atmosphere makes it feel like a genuine escape. (Walt Whitman declared it "the best, most effective medicine my soul has yet partaken.") Under the glow of lamplights, lovers snuggle on benches while watching a parade of cyclists, tourists, or families strolling under the web of suspension wires that rise to the 271-ft tall Gothic arches. — Daniel Maurer