Calendar: July 23

A Year: Day to Day Men: 23rd of July

Framing His Own Portrait

July 23, 1886 was the day that American Steve Brodie jumped (supposedly) off the Brooklyn Bridge and survived.

The Brooklyn Bridge, then known as the East River Bridge, had opened just three years before Steve Brodie’s claimed jump. A swimming instructor from Washington DC, Robert Emmet Odium, was killed while attempting the same stunt in May of 1885. Brodie, who was unemployed and aware of the publicity generated by Odium’s fatal jump, bragged to people in the Bowery section of New York City that he would take the jump. Wagers were made for and against; but Brodie never officially announced he would make the attempt.

The jump supposedly made by Steve Brodie on July 23, was from a height of 135 feet, the same height as a fourteen-story building. The New York Times in its coverage put the height at about 120 feet. The newspaper backed Brodie’s account of the jump, saying that Brodie had practiced by making shorter jumps from other bridges and from masts of ships. They also cited two witness descriptions by their reporters.

The New York Times account stated that Steve Bodie leaped into the East River, feet first, and emerged uninjured , except with a pain on his right side. Upon reaching shore, Steve Brodie was arrested by the police. The New York Times described Brodie as a newsboy and long-distance pedestrian who jumped from the bridge to win a two-hundred dollar bet. Another account that surfaced after the jump was a claim by Moritz Herzber, a liquor dealer, who said he offered to back a saloon for Brodie if he made the jump.

If true, Steve Bodie would have been the first person to survive a jump off the Brooklyn Bridge; however, his claim was disputed, which still lingers today. In 1930 it was reported that a retired police sergeant and friend of Bodie, Thomas K. Hastings, said that Steve Brodie had told him he didn’t make the jump and never said he did. In his book “The Great Bridge”, historian David McCullough said it was commonly believed by skeptics that a dummy was dropped from the bridge, and that Brodie merely swam out from shore and surfaced beside a passing barge.

After the stunt, Steve Brodie opened a saloon at 114 Bowery near Grand Street, which also became a museum for his bridge-jumping stunt. He became an actor capitalizing on his reputation, appearing in the vaudeville musicals “Mad Money” and “On the Bowery”. He later opened another saloon in Buffalo, New York. Brodie died in San Antonio, Texas in 1901; the cause of death described as either diabetes or tuberculosis. His fame persisted after his death, with the term “to do a Brodie”, meaning to take a chance, specifically a suicidal one, entered the language.