David McCullough · 608 pages
Rating: (10.3K votes)
“Roebling rejoined the Army of the Potomac in February 1863 back at Fredericksburg, where he was quartered late one night in an old stone jail, from which he would emerge the following morning with a story that would be told in the family for years and years to come. The place had little or no light, it seems, and Roebling, all alone, groping his way about, discovered an old chest that aroused his curiosity. He lifted the lid and reaching inside, his hand touched a stone-cold face. The lid came back down with a bang. Deciding to investigate no further, he cleared a place on the floor, stretched out, and went to sleep. At daybreak he opened the chest to see what sort of corpse had been keeping him company through the night and found instead a stone statue of George Washington’s mother that had been stored away for safekeeping.”
“But even if a person were ignorant of such things, the sight of a moving train held aloft above the great gorge at Niagara by so delicate a contrivance was, in the 1860’s, nothing short of miraculous. The bridge seemed to defy the most fundamental laws of nature. Something so slight just naturally ought to give way beneath anything so heavy. That it did not seemed pure magic.”
“It so happens that the work which is likely to be our most durable monument, and to convey some knowledge of us to the most remote posterity, is a work of bare utility; not a shrine, not a fortress, not a palace, but a bridge. —MONTGOMERY SCHUYLER IN HARPER’S WEEKLY, MAY 24, 1883”
“For some people the experience of crossing by carriage was positively terrifying. “You drive over to Suspension Bridge,” wrote Mark Twain, “and divide your misery between the chances of smashing down two hundred feet into the river below, and the chances of having a railway-train overhead smashing down onto you. Either possibility is discomforting taken by itself, but, mixed together, they amount in the aggregate to positive unhappiness.”
“But Brooklyn, in fact, was the third-largest city in America and had been for some time. It was a major manufacturing center—for glass, steel, tinware, marble mantels, hats, buggy whips, chemicals, cordage, whiskey, beer, glue. It was a larger seaport than New York, a larger city than Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, and growing faster than any of them—faster even than”
“One of the first problems to be faced at Niagara was how to get a wire over the gorge and its violent river. Ellet solved that nicely by offering five dollars to the first American boy to fly a kite over to the Canadian side. The prize was won by young Homer Walsh, who would tell the story for the rest of his days. Once the kite string was across, a succession of heavier cords and ropes was pulled over, and in a short time the first length of wire went on its way. After that, when the initial cable had been completed, Ellet decided to demonstrate his faith in it in a fashion people would not forget. He had an iron basket made up big enough to hold him and attached it to the cable with pulleys. Then stepping inside, on a morning in March 1848, he pulled himself over the gorge and back again, all in no more than fifteen minutes’ time, and to the great excitement of crowds gathered along both rims.”
“The disaster at Johnstown was one that need never have happened and a powerful reminder that it can be terribly dangerous, even perilous, to assume that because people hold positions of responsibility they are therefore acting responsibly.”
“He was the first one on deck in the morning and generally the last to leave at night, and once, when nearly every passenger was miserably seasick and lay groaning in his berth, Roebling, his head spinning, his stomach churning, was resolutely walking the deck. The malady, he rationalized, “involves no danger at all,” noting that “a cheerful carefree disposition and a manly, vigorous spirit will have great influence on the sickness.” For”
“was a deep melancholic disillusionment growing out of what John Roebling thought he saw happening to the country since the war. The great dynamic of America, he had always said, was that every man had the opportunity to better himself, to fulfill himself. Now the great dynamic seemed more like common greed.”
“John Roebling was a believer in hydropathy, the therapeutic use of water. Come headaches, constipation, the ague, he would sit in a scalding-hot tub for hours at a time, then jump out and wrap up in ice-cold, slopping-wet bed sheets and stay that way for another hour or two. He took Turkish baths, mineral baths. He drank vile concoctions of raw egg, charcoal, warm water, and turpentine, and there were dozens of people along Canal Street who had seen him come striding through his front gate, cross the canal bridge, and drink water “copiously”—gallons it seemed—from the old fountain beside the state prison. (“This water I relish much . . .” he would write in his notebook.) “A wet bandage around the neck every night, for years, will prevent colds . . .” he preached to his family. “A full cold bath every day is indispensable”
“Later that same spring of 1872, in his own annual report, Roebling would write that most men got over their troubles either by suffering for a long time or "by applying the heroic mode of returning into the caisson at once as soon as pains manifested themselves.”
“Among those who were about to stake so very much on him and his bridge, or who already had, there was not one who could honestly say he knew the man.”
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“by a Scotch-Irish preacher, a Presbyterian named James Finley, in the year 1801, or before John Roebling was born. Finley had been a versatile and ingenious man. His “chain bridge” had a seventy-foot span, cost about six hundred dollars, and in the next ten years he built some forty more of them, including one over the Potomac above Washington.”
“Washington had been the one member of the family ever to go off and work with John Roebling at bridgebuilding.”
“Max is going through my overnight bag when I get back to Wink Hotel. My favorite part about this is that he doesn't stop when I walk in the room.
"Hey," he says. He pulls out my black Hugo Boss dress hirt, then holds it up to his nose and sniffs loudly.
"Dude. Stop." I pull the shirt from his hands and toss it on the bed.
"I just love your scent," he says in a chick voice.
"You and everyone else, my friend.”
“I felt hopeless. I was never going to get better. All I was doing was spending time that was really wasted since I was ultimately going to get done what had to be done. Put your finger in a bucket of water and pull it out. The hole left is how much I’d be missed. Killing myself was my job, my responsibility. (131)”
“That's a wonderful side effect of leather pants: when you pee yourself in them, they're more forgiving than jeans.”
“The housewife is an unpaid worker in her husband's house in return for the security of being a permanent employee: hers is the reductio ad absurdum of the employee who accepts a lower wage in return for permanence of his employment. But the lowest paid employees can be and are laid off, and so are wives. They have no savings, no skills which they can bargain with elsewhere, and they must bear the stigma of having been sacked.”
“Adam took one hand off the handlebars and fingered the envelope in his inside pocket like a schoolboy the day before his birthday feeling the shape of a present in the hope of discovering some clue as to its contents. He felt certain that whatever it contained would not be to anyone's advantage now his father was dead, but it did not lessen his curiosity.”
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