Friday, December 2, 2011

Rare photos of the legendary Steve Brodie

Outside 114 Bowery c. 1897 (left), scan of Brodie's 1896 liquor license (right)

These are some rare images relating to Steve Brodie, a man whose claim to fame was just that, a claim, that in 1886 he jumped from the Brooklyn Bridge and survived.

The following an excerpt from The Bowery: A History of Grit, Graft and Grandeur:

Brodie, a native Lower East Sider, was an outgoing, blusterous youth who earned the nicknames “Napoleon of Newsboys” and “George Washington of Blackbooters” because of the influence he had over other boys in the rowdy Fourth Ward. (Think Christian Bale in the 1992 movie-musical Newsies.) In one 1879 interview, sixteen-year-old Steve Brodie bragged about how he and other local “newsies” would band together to chase new competition out of their territory and complained about how Italians were taking all the bootblacking jobs.

A professional gambler as a young adult, Brodie fell into debt when he took on a dare to jump off the New York City landmark for $200—just months after daredevil Robert Odlum was killed while attempting the same stunt. As Brodie began to take full advantage of the publicity around his planned jump, a liquor dealer named Moritz Herzber offered to finance a saloon in Brodie’s name—if he survived.

On the morning of July 23, 1886, Brodie stood on the railing of the bridge while a couple of friends tested the waters below in a rowboat and news reporters gathered on a pier nearby. At 10:00 a.m., Brodie’s team called off the jump, claiming the tide was too strong. Brodie came down from the structure only to return about 2:00 p.m. that day,, when it is claimed he rode in the back of a wagon until he got about one hundred yards over the bridge, at which point he took off his hat and shoes and plunged over the railing into the East River.

Despite several “eyewitnesses” and lengthy news reports, most historians believe the jump was a hoax, theorizing that a friend threw a life-size dummy from the wagon that people mistook for Brodie amidst all the excitement. Brodie was arrested after being “rescued” from the water, but charges were dropped and he became an instant celebrity. Herzber made good on his promise, and Brodie’s saloon was opened at 114 Bowery. It also doubled as a museum dedicated to the stunt.

The public could not get enough of Steve Brodie, who went on to tour the country in vaudeville musicals Mad Money and On the Bowery, re-creating his famous leap for clamoring fans. Eventually, Brodie settled in Buffalo, New York, where he died from diabetes in 1901 at the young age of thirty-nine.

Steve Brodie’s stunt inspired a slew of pop culture references, including the 1933 Hollywood film The Bowery, in which fellow Lower East Sider George Raft portrayed Brodie in the lead role; and a 1949 Looney Tunes cartoon named Bowery Bugs, which re-imagines Bugs Bunny being the motivation for Brodie’s jump. The urban legend also inspired a popular saying: “pulling a Brodie.”

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