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Battle of Pozières, Romania Agrees to Join Allies

Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 244th installment in the series.

JULY 23-25, 1916: BATTLE OF POZIERES, ROMANIA AGREES TO JOIN ALLIES 

Impressed by the success of the surprise nighttime attack opening the Battle of Bazentin Ridge, British Expeditionary Force commander Douglas Haig and his subordinate, British Fourth Army commander Henry Rawlinson, decided to employ the same tactics in a fresh assault all along the northern half of the Somme battlefield.

However they ignored many other important lessons of Bazentin Ridge, especially the crucial role played by the devastating multi-day bombardment preceding the attack, which obliterated the trenches of the German second defensive line (aided by the absence of the deep dugouts found in the German first line, the cause of so much grief on the first day of the Somme). Determined to attack again before the Germans had a chance to strengthen their defenses, Haig and Rawlinson didn’t leave enough time for aerial reconnaissance to map out German defenses, making the British bombardment that much less effective this time; indeed in their haste they simply ignored an entirely new enemy trench dug before the village of Bazentin le Petit. Furthermore, the British went ahead despite the refusal of their French allies to commit to a coordinated attack by the Sixth Army in the south, leaving the British right flank exposed. Finally, last-minute changes and miscommunication meant various British divisions would attack at different times, forfeiting the element of surprise and allowing the Germans to shuffle troops to strengthen local defenses.

While the new attack unfolded all along the British sector of the Somme, some of the fiercest fighting centered on the village of Pozières (now a village in name only, like dozens of other settlements reduced to rubble across the Somme battlefield; see below), assigned to the Reserve Army under General Hubert Gough. A stronghold in the original German second defensive line, the capture of Pozières would allow the British to threaten German control of the Thiepval Ridge, a key defensive position between the village of Thiepval and the village of Courcellete further east. But first they would have to get there.

After a relatively brief three-hour-long final bombardment beginning at 7 p.m. on the evening of July 22, the first attacks by British troops on German positions near Delville Wood (the scene of intense ongoing fighting since the attack on Bazentin Ridge) and the village of Guillemont, west of Combles, met with fleeting success before German bombardments and infantry counter-attacks forced them out of the captured positions. Here the British attackers paid a heavy price for the failure of their own artillery to silence the German guns.

Bloody as they were, these engagements would prove mere sideshows compared to the attack by the Reserve Army’s Australian 1st Division on Pozières, which opened with an intense bombardment of the German trenches followed by the now-standard “creeping barrage,” with the guns gradually increasing their range to lay down a protective wall of fire in front of the advancing infantry. An Australian war correspondent, C.E.W. Bean, recalled surreal scenes amid the final round of shelling:

That night, shortly after dark, there broke out the most fearful bombardment I have ever seen. As one walked towards the battlefield, the weirdly shattered woods and battered houses stood out almost all the time against one continuous band of flickering light along the eastern skyline… About midnight our field artillery lashed down its shrapnel upon the German front line in the open before the village. A few minutes later this fire lifted and the Australian attack was launched.

Paul Maze, a Frenchman serving as an interpreter with the British Army, painted a similar picture of the final moments before the attack on Pozières:

Suddenly a crash fell like a thunderbolt and the earth shuddered. Hundreds of guns had opened fire from the valley on our left. In hundreds, shells came shrieking and burst over Pozières, where now tongues of flames were rising, flaring on lines of waiting men mesmerised by this unprecedented burst of sound. Chromatically the German artillery retaliation swelled the row into a mad road, and the general tac-tac of machine-guns became discernible like the beat of a steady pulse. I heard the clash of steel as men near me fixed their bayonets.

As soon as the British guns shifted their elevations to lay down the creeping barrage, the Australian infantry surged into no-man’s-land. Maze described the scenes that followed:

With a rush, every man went forward. Bullets hissed past as we followed. A man in front of me tottered and fell. I could hardly control my legs as I leapt to avoid his body. The ground seemed to quake under me. Everything appeared to be moving along with me, figures were popping up and down on either side over the convulsing ground, and I felt the rush of others coming on behind. The waves in front were merged in smoke, moving like animated figures projected on a glaring screen.

Here, at least, the British bombardment had succeeded in smashing the first and second German trenches, and the brave Australians quickly poured over the wrecked earthworks of the first enemy trench into Pozières itself (below, a captured German trench at Pozières).

The situation was chaotic to say the least, as the Australians fought German defenders holding craters and ruins amid pitch black darkness, illuminated only by bursting shells and the burning remnants of houses. Maze remembered:

Again we pushed forward and quickly made for the second trench, our next objective… Everything seemed to be going up around us. We passed the first crumbled walls of houses, against which bullets were spattering like hailstones. Men were hardly discernible in the darkness. Lashed by sprays of dust and broken brick, we stumbled over stones and plunged into shell-holes… Then our progress slowed down. Everything was swaying. Musketry firing and machine-guns were making a terrific din to our right and left; trees were falling across each other. Shells bursting on the ruined houses hurled the walls sky-high, filling the vibrating air with more dust and smoke.

The success of the British artillery in destroying the first and second German trenches had the unintended consequence of leaving the attackers disoriented and defenseless, according to Bean, who claimed that many Australian troops essentially wandered into Pozières by mistake:

The Australian infantry dashed at once from the first position captured, across the intervening space over the tramway and into the trees. It was here that the first real difficulty arose along parts of the line. Some sections found in front of them the trench which they were looking for--an excellent deep trench which had survived the bombardment. Other sections found no recognisable trench at all, but a maze of shell craters and tumbled rubbish, or a simple ditch reduced to white powder. Parties went on through the trees into the village, searching for the position, and pushed so close to the fringe of their own shell fire that some were wounded by it.

Even worse, German artillery left intact by the inaccurate preparatory bombardment now turned on the easy targets occupying Pozières, raking the village and its approaches in an attempt cut off the Australians and prevent reinforcements and supplies from coming forward. Maze described the attackers’ (now turned defenders) dazed reaction as dawn broke over battlefield on the morning of July 23:

As the sun came over the ridge we were dazzled by its brilliant rays. Where were we? We were much farther into the village than we at first thought. In front of us the earth was being rapidly shovelled out of a trench, and we could see the heads of a few men busily consolidating the position. No movement in the open ground seemed possible. The shelling had increased… Some German dead were still clasping their hand grenades. Near us and Australian and a German, killed at the moment they had come to grips, hung together on the parapet like marionettes embracing each other.

As the scant remains of the village were pulverized beyond recognition (below, the site of the village after the battle), the Australians sought shelter in shell holes and hastily dug trenches, while valiant ration parties ran the gantlet of German artillery to bring supplies across the desolation of the recently captured no-man’s-land.

The ferocity of the continuous German bombardment made it almost impossible for fresh troops to reach Pozières, leaving the outnumbered Australians clinging to their hard-won gains in the face of the inevitable German counter-attack, which finally arrived on the morning of July 25, 1916, and left Australian 1st Division a worn-out shell of its self. By now the British artillery managed to hit their German counterparts with enough suppressing fire to allow the 1st Division to be relieved by the Australian 2nd Division, but further progress beyond Pozières proved impossible for the time being. Another week of preparation was needed before the next major attack, on Pozières Ridge, in early August.

For the Australians left holding Pozières, it seemed like they had landed on the moon. Bean described the bizarre landscape left by relentless shelling:

Over the whole face of the country shells have ploughed up the land literally as with a gigantic plough, so that there is more red and brown earth than green. From the distance all the colour is given by these upturned crater edges, and the country is wholly red… Dry shell crater upon shell crater upon shell crater--all bordering one another until some fresh salvo shall fall and assort the old group of craters into a new one, to be reassorted again and again as the days go on… Every minute or two there is a crash. Part of the desert bumps itself up into huge red or black clouds and subsides again. Those eruptions are the only movement in Pozières.

And still the living nightmare continued with futile attacks and furious counterattacks elsewhere on the Somme front. Fred Ball, a British soldier in the Liverpool “Pals,” remembered approaching the frontline to participate in one such assault on night of July 29, 1916:

Now we found ourselves approaching the monster. Gradually, as we moved, we were enwrapped in that almost homogenous sea of sound, and shells burst nearer and nearer. Stumbling along in the inky darkness, the intensity of which was preserved by frequent explosions, I can hardly attempt to describe my thoughts and feelings… Darkness may be awful, but when duty tells you to go and be killed and, in the going, to walk past wounded men, right and left, in the eerie light of military fireworks, the horror of it becomes almost unbearable.

After hearing a wounded man shrieking “Mother of God,” Ball was jolted into the kind of cosmic reflections that many men doubtless experienced during the First World War, although relatively few were as frank about their conclusions:

“Mother of God!” I reiterated, scarcely knowing what I was saying. Then I realized the meaning of the words. In a flash of violent emotion I denied Her right there and then. If She existed, why were we here? She didn’t exist. There was no such thing. My strength was in my three to one odds. It was all chance. Oh for a Blighty one. Even the fourth chance, death, was becoming less dreadful. It would take me out of it all, whatever else might happen…

The experience was little different for soldiers on the other side of the battle, as ordinary German infantrymen suffered the unremitting terror of Allied bombardments, gas attacks, and massed infantry assaults day after day, week after week, often with no hope of relief (the six fresh divisions dispatched by chief of the general staff Erich von Falkenhayn were barely sufficient to hold the line at the Somme, in addition to spelling the end of the Verdun offensive).

Friedrich Steinbrecher, a soldier in the German Army, described rushing to the front with his unit to help repel a French attack during the first week of August 1916:

… we were rushed up through shell-shattered villages and barrage into the turmoil of war. The enemy was firing with 12-inch guns. There was a perfect torrent of shells. Sooner than we expected we were in the thick of it. First in the artillery position. Columns were tearing hither and thither as if possessed. The gunners could no longer see or hear. Very lights were going up along the whole Front, and there was a deafening noise: the cries of wounded, orders, and reports.

Steinbrecher next witnessed one of the horrifying sights that had become all too common during the First World War:

At noon the gun-fire became even more intense, and then came the order: “The French have broken through! Counter-attack!” We advanced through the shattered wood in a hail of shells. I don’t know how I found the right way. Then across an expanse of shell craters, on and on. Falling down and getting up again. Machine-guns were firing. I had to cut across our own barrage and the enemy’s. I am untouched. At last we reach the front line. Frenchmen are forcing their way in. The tide of battle ebbs and flows. Then things get quieter. We have not fallen back a foot. Now one’s eyes begin to see things. I want to keep running on – to stand still and look is horrible. “A wall of dead and wounded!” How often I have read that phrase! Now I know what it means.

ROMANIA AGREES TO JOIN ALLIES

The First World War, likened by many to a monster or natural phenomenon growing out of control, continued to suck in more countries as time went on, including Italy and Bulgaria in 1915 and Portugal in March 1916 (the latter resulting from Portugal’s confiscation of German ships, which provoked a German declaration of war). In August 1916 the list would grow to include Romania, which joined the Allies following a preliminary agreement signed in at Allied headquarters in Chantilly, France, on July 23, 1916.

Romania had long been a secret member of the Triple Alliance with Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy, but like Italy its reasons for joining (in Romania’s case, protection against Russia) had ceased to matter, following a rapprochement with Russia in the final years before the war. Even more importantly, public opinion was strongly against Austria-Hungary, where the Hungarian Magyar aristocrats forcefully suppressed the Dual Monarchy’s three million ethnic Romanian citizens. Again like Italy and Serbia, the Romanians dreamed of liberating their ethnic kinsmen and forming a Greater Romania, and the German-born King Ferdinand (despite being a member of the same extended Hohenzollern family as Kaiser Wilhelm II) responded to the will of his people.

The final decision to enter the war on the side of the Allies was made by Prime Minister Bratianu, who ended two years of vacillation in July 1916, strongly influenced by Russia’s success in the Brusilov Offensive, as well as Germany’s failure in Verdun and the major Allied push at the Somme – all of which seemed to indicate that the war might end in the near future, leaving Romania out in the cold when it came to divide up the spoils.

In the military convention signed at Chantilly on July 23, Romania and the Allies tentatively agreed to a plan that would divide the Romanian contribution evenly between an attack on Hungary and a thrust to the south against Bulgaria, with the French and British advocating the latter option in hopes of forcing Bulgaria to remove some pressure from their own troops at Salonika in northern Greece. They could also benefit (at least theoretically) from Romania’s massive supplies of grain and oil.

In mid-August the military convention of July 23 would be scrapped in favor of an all-out attack on Hungary, which had always been the focal point of Romanian ambitions anyway. However the change in direction proved moot, as the Allies had egregiously overestimated Romania’s fighting power.

Although Romania had 800,000 troops on paper, it only had enough equipment for around 550,000 of them, and officers and ordinary soldiers alike were inexperienced in trench warfare, unlike their foes. Meanwhile to make up for the equipment shortages the Allies promised to supply additional weapons and ammunition – but the only possible route for delivering these to the isolated country lay through Russia, which had logistical and supply problems of its own. In short, the stage was set for utter disaster in the second half of 1916.

RASPUTIN OUSTS ANOTHER FOE

Elsewhere July 23 brought another setback for the Allies, but this one took place far away from any battlefield – in Petrograd, to be specific, where the malignant holy man Rasputin scored yet another victory in his relentless campaign of court intrigue, aided by his all-important ally, the Tsarina Alexandra.

Following the defenestration of Minister of War Alexei Polivanov, one of Rasputin’s many personal enemies in the imperial capital, in March 1916, he next turned his sights on another rival, Foreign Minister Sergei Sazonov, who had played a central role in bringing Russia into the war in 1914. Sazonov apparently fell into disfavor with the reactionary Tsarina – and through her, her husband Tsar Nicholas II – because of his support for a relatively liberal policy of self-government in Poland, which would supposedly become an autonomous kingdom under the rule of the Tsar after the war, uniting Russia’s Polish Grand Duchy with the ethnic Poles of Germany and Austria-Hungary.

This gave Rasputin all the leverage he needed to dispose of Sazonov, despite the fact that he enjoyed the strong support of the Western Allies, France and Britain, who worried that his successor, Rasputin’s ally Prime Minister Boris Stürmer, had little experience in foreign affairs and wouldn’t be an enthusiastic advocate for continuing the war against Germany and Austria-Hungary. Even worse, members of the Russian Parliament understandably feared that Stürmer, who continued as Prime Minister and was also serving as Interior Minister, was accumulating dictatorial powers – and rumors had long circulated of his pro-German sympathies (obviously not dispelled by his German name). It was all too easy to connect the dots with the alleged German sympathies of Alexandra and Rasputin to draw a picture of a treasonous pro-German conspiracy seizing control of the Russian government.

There was no question French and British diplomats viewed the removal of Sazonov and appointment of Stürmer as a fresh disaster for the Allied cause. Thus the French ambassador, Maurice Paleologue, wrote his conclusion in his diary on July 23, 1916:

This morning the Press officially announces the retirement of Sazonov and Sturmer’s appointment in his place. No comments. But I hear that first impressions are a wave of amazement and indignation… His sensational dismissal cannot therefore be explained by any admissible motive. The explanation unhappily forced upon us is that the camarilla, of which Sturmer is the instrument, wanted to get control of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. For several weeks Rasputin has been saying: “I've had enough of Sazonov, quite enough!” Urged on by the Empress, Sturmer went to G.H.Q. to ask for Sazonov's dismissal. The Empress went to his rescue, and the Emperor gave way.

On August 3, Paleologue commiserated with Sazonov, who confided:

“It’s a year since the Empress began to be hostile towards me,” he said. “She’s never forgiven me for begging the Emperor not to assume command of his armies. She brought such pressure to bear to secure my dismissal that the Emperor ultimately gave way. But why this scandal? Why this ‘scene’? It would have been so easy to pave the way for my departure with the excuse of my health! I should have given loyal assistance! And why did the Emperor give me so confident and affectionate a reception the last time I saw him?” And then, in a tone of deepest melancholy, he more or less summed up his unpleasant experience in these words: “The Emperor reigns: but it is the Empress who governs ---under Rasputin's guidance. Alas! May God protect us!”

See the previous installment or all entries.

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The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, MLive.com reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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15 Fascinating Facts About the Brooklyn Bridge
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Don't agree to buy it, but you can never know too much about the most famous way to get across the East River—which officially opened 135 years ago, on May 24, 1883.

1. THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE NEEDED A LITTLE BRIBERY TO GET STARTED.

In its initial conception, the Brooklyn Bridge had an honorable goal: Providing safe passage across the rough and frigid East River for Brooklyn residents who worked in Manhattan. In the 1850s, Prussian-born engineer John Augustus Roebling dreamed of a suspension bridge that would make the commute easier for these working class New Yorkers.

However, the methods employed to get the project rolling weren’t quite as honorable. After Roebling was hired by the New York Bridge Company to help span the river, infamous political kingpin William “Boss” Tweed funneled $65,000 in bribes to city aldermen to secure funding for the bridge.

2. THE BRIDGE HAS GONE BY SEVERAL NAMES.

“Brooklyn Bridge” seems like a natural handle for the hybrid suspension and cable-stayed bridge connecting lower Manhattan to its neighbor across the East River, but the name evolved over time. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle first referred to the project as the “Brooklyn Bridge” in 1867, but in its early days it was still referred to as the “Great East River Bridge” as well as the “Great East River Suspension Bridge." At its 1883 dedication, it took on the clunky official name the “New York and Brooklyn Bridge.” (Brooklyn wouldn’t become a part of New York City until 1898.) Brooklyn civic pride led to the name officially changing to the “Brooklyn Bridge” in 1915.

3. ROEBLING PAID A HIGH PRICE FOR THE BRIDGE.

The Brooklyn Bridge was Roebling’s brainchild, but he wouldn’t live to see its completion. While making measurements for the future bridge in 1869, a ferry crushed Roebling’s foot. The engineer developed tetanus as a result of these wounds and passed away in July 1869.

4. ROEBLING’S SON TOOK HIS PLACE AND HAD EQUALLY BAD LUCK.

After Roebling’s death, his son Washington Augustus Roebling stepped in as the bridge project’s chief engineer. The younger Roebling soon developed a problem of his own. To build the structure’s massive foundation, workers labored in caissons, sealed chambers that kept the riverbed dry and allowed for digging. Breathing and working deep in the caissons required compressed air, which meant workers who came up from the depths were vulnerable to “caisson disease,” better known today as the bends. In 1872, Roebling came down with this decompression sickness and was confined to bed.

5. THE PROJECT BECAME AN EARLY FEMINIST VICTORY.

After Washington Roebling fell ill, a third Roebling stepped in as the de facto chief engineer of the bridge, his wife, Emily Warren Roebling. Although Emily began her tenure running orders between her husband, who was laid up in a Brooklyn Heights apartment with a view of construction, and his workers, she soon took bona fide command of the project, overseeing the design, construction, and business management of the tremendous undertaking. Emily Warren Roebling is now widely recognized as a pioneering female engineer and a driving force behind the bridge. Following her work on the bridge, Emily went on to earn a degree in law from New York University and published essays in favor of gender equality.

6. A ROOSTER MADE THE FIRST TRIP ACROSS THE BRIDGE.

Technically, the rooster was tied for first. Emily Warren Roebling earned the honor of being the first human to make the trip across the historic bridge, riding proudly in a carriage a week before its official opening in front of an audience that included President Chester A. Arthur. Sitting in Emily’s lap all the while was a rooster, a symbol of good luck.

7. THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE WAS THE WORLD’S FIRST STEEL-WIRE SUSPENSION BRIDGE.

John Augustus Roebling himself is credited with introducing the steel-wire innovation into bridge design. The engineer proudly referred to steel as “the metal of the future.”

8. A SNEAKY CONTRACTOR INTRODUCED LOW-QUALITY WIRE INTO THE MIX.

Construction materials were accumulated under the watch of John Augustus Roebling, who failed to notice that he had been swindled on his cable wire. Contractor J. Lloyd Haigh snuck a substantial amount of inferior, even faulty, wire into the mix. The flaw went unrecognized until after the wires were incorporated into the standing bridge, at which point replacing them was impossible. Instead, the construction team doubled down on its security measures, introducing far more wire than calculations deemed necessary while working desperately to keep the discovery from reaching the public. For his part, Haigh escaped prosecution for this crime, but was arrested and convicted for forgery in an unrelated case. 

9. THE BRIDGE WAS THE SITE OF A STAMPEDE SOON AFTER OPENING.

The Brooklyn Bridge opened to the public on May 24, 1883 and enjoyed a fairly harmonious first five days in operation. On May 30, however, disaster struck when either a woman tripping or a rumor of a pending collapse sparked a panic among the massive crowd of pedestrians crossing the bridge. The mob’s frantic race to escape the bridge resulted in the deaths of 12 people and serious injuries to 36 more.

10. TWENTY-ONE ELEPHANTS WALKED ACROSS THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE IN 1884.

How do you convince one of America’s busiest cities that its newest bridge can offer safe transport to its many commuters? Elephants. Since the most common haven for trained elephants in the 1880s was a circus tent, the city called upon entrepreneurial showman P.T. Barnum to march 21 elephants across the Brooklyn Bridge in May of 1884 to show just how sturdy the span was.

11. COMPARTMENTS IN THE BRIDGE WERE USED FOR STORING WINE.

If you think a nice glass of wine would be the perfect companion for a moonlit stroll across a river, this is the bridge for you. Engineers built sizeable vaults that were up to 50 feet tall into the bridge beneath its anchorages. Thanks to their cool temperatures, these granite-walled storage spaces made the perfect wine cellars, and they were rented out to the public until World War I. The company A. Smith & Co. Productions forked over $500 a month as rent for the Brooklyn-side vaults, while the liquor distributor Luyties Brothers paid a pretty $5000 for the prime real estate beneath the Manhattan anchorage.

12. ANOTHER COMPARTMENT WAS TURNED INTO A FALLOUT SHELTER.

At some point during the Cold War, one of the bridge’s compartments transformed into a survival shelter stocked with food and water rations and medical supplies. After fading into obscurity after the close of the Cold War, this fallout shelter was rediscovered in 2006 during a routine structural inspection of the bridge.

13. NOBODY CAN FIGURE OUT EXACTLY WHAT COLOR THE BRIDGE WAS.

Upon the announcement of a plan to repaint the Brooklyn Bridge in 2010, controversy erupted over the landmark’s original color. Some historians insisted that the young suspension bridge wore a proud buff color, renamed “Brooklyn Bridge Tan” for the modern makeover. (The option of “Queensborough Tan” drew groans.) On the other side of the battle, old documents and hand-colored lithographs supported the argument that the icon’s original color was “Rawlins Red,” a hue derived from the iron-oxide from the eponymous mountain town of southern Wyoming. In the end, Brooklyn Bridge Tan won out.

14. THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE STANDS WHERE GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT.

The Manhattan anchorage of the Brooklyn Bridge features a bronze plaque commemorating the land below as the former location of the country’s first presidential mansion. Known alternatively as the Samuel Osgood House and the Walter Franklin House, the Lower Manhattan mansion served as the home of George Washington during his first ten months as America’s Commander-in-Chief. The residence stood at the intersection of Cherry Street and Pearl Street for 85 years before its demolition in 1856.

15. THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE WAS THE LONGEST IN THE WORLD FOR 20 YEARS.

Just two years before starting work on his New York project, John Augustus Roebling made a bit of suspension bridge history with the humbly named John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, which spanned 1057 feet over the Ohio River between Covington, Ky. and Cincinnati. Roebling put that endeavor to shame with the Brooklyn Bridge, which bested its predecessor’s principal span by about 50 percent. Boasting a main span of 1595 feet and a total measurement of 5,989 feet, the Brooklyn Bridge held the superlative of longest suspension bridge in the world for two decades. When it finally lost the title in 1903, its successor was none other than its fellow East River crossing the Williamsburg Bridge. The latter’s main span bested the Brooklyn Bridge’s by only four and a half feet, though its total length reached 7308 feet.

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