BROOKLYN BRIDGE CASUALTIES





This page is intended to list those men killed during construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and to provide as accurate as possible the circumstances of each death. The list will never be complete, or fully accurate. Records were inconsistent, many deaths were never recorded. There was no public record keeping, and the bridge company often ignored casualties. Some deaths have been carried through the years only by the families. If you have information about a death related to the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, and you would like the information to be recorded here, please send with as much detail as possible to the Webmaster. For additional names of people and workmen who survived the bridge construction, please visit Brooklyn Bridge Names.


John Roebling
Thomas Blake
Cope
Daugherty
Donahue
Thomas Douglas
McCann
Patrick McKay
Neil Mullen
John Myers
William Reardon
Reed
Harry Supple
Anonymous 1
Anonymous 2
Anonymous 3
Memorial Day 1883
Avoy
Brooks
Matthew Burns
Matthew Byrne
Patrick Collins
Francis Demel Drake
Michael Duddy
Johnston
Koen
Lars Kornelius Larsen
Lockwood
James McLaren
John Maronna
Murphy
John Murphy
John Nakis
Johannes Heinrich Seifer
Meta Busing Schmidt
Walter Solley
Thomas Talbot
Tinney
Robert C. Quinn
Anonymous 4





General comments about casualties on the bridge from the publications noted below:

(DBS) The Builders of the Bridge by D.B Steinman; Harcourt, Brace and Co., Inc.; 1945

Brooklyn Bridge Construction Accidents

Some of the worst accidents of the bridge construction happened during the cable rigging. In June of 1878, a cable strand secured at the New York anchorage broke loose during adjustment. The strand flew over the New York tower and into the East River, taking off the top of one rigger's head and knocking another off the anchorage along the way. Another rigger was guiding wire onto a drum.

He kicked at it to keep it in line, and his foot was caught. His leg was wrapped around the drum, killing him almost instantly. Several others died due to falls or falling equipment. At least three men died of the bends (caisson disease) during the caisson work. A couple of men were crushed by blocks being swung into place. All told, roughly 27 people died during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.








"The Great Bridge"
by David McCullough
(page 506):
There is no official figure for the number of men killed building the bridge. The Bridge Company compiled no list, kept no precise records on the subject, which is characteristic of the age. In a booklet made up of his Cooper Union talks and published after the bridge was built, Farrington (Master Mechanic for the Bridge construction) says between thirty and forty men died during the work, which is especially interesting if it is remembered that Emily Roebling may have done Farrington's writing for him.

The Chief Engineer and William Kingsley, however, both said twenty had died and from the deaths reported in the papers and mentioned here and there in the minutes of Bridge Company meetings, that seems to be a realistic figure.






Deaths Reported:


John Roebling d. July 22, 1869.
"The Chief Engineer was taking observations to determine the exact location of the Brooklyn Tower. His assistant, Colonel William H. Paine, was stationed with a transit on the distant New York shore to help by giving the line across the river. Roebling was standing on a cluster of piles at the rack of the Fulton Ferry slip, receiving signals from Colonel Paine. Engrossed in the work, the bridge-builder was oblivious to a ferry boat just entering the slip. The boat, laden with passengers, crashed heavily into the fender. The fender rack was suddenly forced against the piles, and Roebling's foot was caught and crushed between the timbers.

The toes of his right foot were amputated immediately, but lock jaw set in. The philosopher-engineer refused, as he always had, conventional medical attention. He died after two weeks of great pain."

from "Brooklyn Bridge, Fact and Symbol" by Alan Trachtenberg (page 95)



Thomas Blake d. 14 June 1878. Workman on New York anchorage when cable snapped, killing him instantly.
From "The Great Bridge" pp439.




Cope d. 1876.
Workman assigned to guide rope onto the drum of the hoisting engine. Decided to kick the rope, caught foot in engine, died almost immediately.
From "The Great Bridge" pp335.




Daugherty d. 23 October 1871. Workman caught in the derrick failure. Trapped along with Thomas Douglas under derrick on top of Brooklyn tower. Rescued, but lived only a few minutes after being pulled from under the derrick.
From "The Great Bridge" pp259.



Thomas Douglas d. 1873. Workman caught in the derrick failure. Trapped along with Daugherty under derrick on top of Brooklyn tower. Rescued, but suffered severe injuries that led to his death about 20 months later. Expert mason respected for work at Prospect Park. Supervisor in charge of work outside the Broooklyn caisson, 1870.
From "The Great Bridge" pp.183,259.



McCann d. 1875
Fell from Brooklyn Tower, killed instantly.
From "The Great Bridge" pp335.



John Elliot d. May 1876
Fell from New York Tower, slipped on flatcar track, killed instantly.
From "The Great Bridge" pp335.



Patrick McKay d. April 30, 1872.
Aged 50, born in Ireland, had been working in the caisson for 4 months and had not complained of ill health.
from "The Builders of the Bridge" by D.B. Steinman (page 365)



Neil Mullen d. Dec, 1877.
Masonry Collapse. Brooklyn man, widower with 6 children.
from "The Great Bridge" by David McCullough (page 412)



John Myers d. April 22, 1872.
Caisson Disease (The Bends) A heavy set German laborer.
from "The Great Bridge" by David McCullough (page 313)
The first fatal case occurred on April 22, 1872 when the caisson was at a depth of 75 feet. John yers, about 40 years old, a native of Germany, went to work in the caisson for the first time that day, the pressure being about 34 psig.
from "The Builders of the Bridge" by D.B. Steinman (page 365)



William Reardon d. May 18, 1872.
Caisson Disease. Englishman, aged 38.
from "The Great Bridge" by David McCullough (page 317) and DBS (page 366)



Reed d. 1875.
Fell from Brooklyn Tower, killed instantly, later found to suffer from epileptic fits.
From "The Great Bridge" pp335.



Harry Supple d. 15 June 1878. Worked on the bridge starting in 1870. Wire rigger adept at working from cables. Working on New York anchorage 14 June 1878 when cable snapped, knocking him off the anchorage, died within 24 hours.
From "The Great Bridge" pp366, 439.




3 Men d. October, 1871.
Defective weld in one of the boom derricks used for placing masonry, causing 2 derricks to fall.
from "The Builders of the Bridge" by D.B. Steinman (page 350)



2 Workers d. June, 1878.
... one day in June, when the fifteenth strand of the North cable had just been completed and was in process of lowering by "letting out" at the New York anchorage, suddenly - by the unfortunate fouling of a holding rope, causing it to break - the great strand broke loose from its adjusting tackle, carrying with it the large cast iron shoe and its ponderous attachments. As the end swept from the anchorage, it dashed off several men at work there, and then, with a frightful leap of nine hundred feet through the air, grazing the houses and peopled streets below, it landed in the bridge yard under the New York tower. ... The cost of this accident was two bridgemen killed, three workmen seriously injured, and the loss of the strand.
from "The Builders of the Bridge" by D.B. Steinman (page 395)



3 Workers
Another man was crushed by a block of granite that struck him in the stomach. One of the carpenters was killed by a falling stone. And a man at work somewhere near the base of the Brooklyn towerwas rolling a wheelbarrow loaded with dirt across a plank at a fairly considerbale elevation, when, by accident, the barrow ran off the edge of the plank. Instaed of letting go, he held tight to the barrow handles, falling to his death.
Approximately a dozen men had died by the time the Towers were finished in early summer 1876.
from "The Great Bridge" by David McCullough (page 335)



Accidents ... In these instances the stones fell only a short distance, merely the height of the derrick arm above the course of masonry being laid, but it was enough to kill one man and maim another for life.

Most of the fatalities occurred from men falling from a height - losing their balance or being dragged by falling equipment. One worker instinctively held on to his wheelbarrow as it slipped from the gangplank, and man and wheelbarrow went plunging through space. The men grew accustomed to working at great heights, and soon lost caution. Several workers on the towers fell to their deaths by a careless misstep. The force of wind near the edge of the tower was often very great and, coming in sudden gusts, it created an additional hazard. This is the one hazard that bridgemen dread. A man would brace himself against the wind, only to lose his balance when the pressure suddenly changed. This happened more than once with fatal results.
from "The Builders of the Bridge" by D.B. Steinman (page 376)



Memorial Day, 4:00 PM, Thursday, May 31, 1883
Panic on Promenade, 12 people crushed to death.
from "The Great Bridge" by David McCullough (page 431, 543)





Inquiries Received
(For additions and clarifications, please e-mail Gary Feuerstein with details):



Avoy
James Breen Avoy had one brother that was also involved in the construction along with their father. The Father is the one who died. The brothers were James and Charles. All three of them were riggers on the bridge.
KS by e-mail 17 Dec 1999



Brooks
In regards to the deaths that occured when building the Brooklyn bridge, my gggrandfather's brother (? Brooks - don't know his first name) was killed in a construction accident while building the Brooklyn Bridge.
I forgot to mention that he was originally born in Drogheda, Co. Louth, Ireland.
FB by e-mail 17 June 2000



Matthew Burns (Byrne)
Killed while working, apparently there were a few others killed in the same accident. He and his two brothers were Irish immigrants.
R by e-mail April 3, 1999

He was my Mother's uncle and came from Shercock Co. Monaghan, Ireland. He went to America with his three brothers, one of them was my Grandfather Owen.
added by e-mail April 29, 2000

... wrote to you a few years ago and sent you the name of my Mother's uncle Matthew Burns who died in an accident on the construction of the bridge. I mistakenly told you he was from Shercock, should have said Corduff, he was from Cordfuff, Co. Monaghan. I see that just below his name there is the name Matthew Byrne, I believe this to be the same individual as oral history family history tells us that the name was changed to Burns on their arrival in N.Y. Perhaps they could not read or write and it was written as they pronounced it.
added by e-mail April 29, 2000



Patrick Collins
We have reason to believe that Patrick Collins was killed building the Bridge.
JDH by e-mail September 9, 2000

My Great Grandfather is the Patrick Collins referred to as having been killed during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. He would have been approximately 22 years old and it would have occured in 1877/1878.
MC by e-mail Wednesday, April 30, 2003



Francis Demel Drake
Killed on the bridge at the beginning of the 20th Century
LAF by e-mail April 16, 1999



Michael Duddy
Today, January 28, 2003, marks the 33rd anniversary of my mother's death. A story I heard years after she passed away concerned her first husband (the existence of whom I had never known about while she was alive). The story told of Michael Duddy who, while on his way to work one morning in a car filled with his co-workers, asked the driver to stop and let him out on the Bridge. Thinking Duddy was simply going to be sick and vomit, the driver complied. Apparently, before any of his companions could do anything to restrain him, Duddy either jumped or fell to his death.

I have no one to ask re the details of this story. Therefore, I would appreciate any information you may have on record pertaining to the suicide of Michael Duddy, which took place on the Brooklyn Bridge (circa 1930s-40s). Any details will be appreciated (even as little as the date of occurence).
JSH by e-mail 28 January 2003



Johnston
We are in the process of doing our family tree and came upon a story that my Great Grandfather was a steel worker/ rivetor on the bridge. His first name can not be remembered by my aging aunts, only that their grandmother told them he died and his body was not recovered. His last name was Johnston, and he was from Glasgow Scotland.
WGM by e-mail October 14, 1999



Donahue
my grandmother anne kane [maiden name donahue] told of her father, donahue, no first name died in construction of the bridge
RK by e-mail 25May2008



Koen
I have been told of a story of a man named Michael Koen who died during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. He was born in Canada to parents who emigrated from Ireland. Because he worked in the United States, he was apparently referred to as Yankee Mike.  He would be a distant relative of mine. Just looking for any information.

I have since learned that the person in question was actually Joseph Koen. He would have been born in Canada about 1870 + or -. His parents were Alexander Koen and Mary Degan. Alexander was born in Canada of Irish parents. Mary emigrated from Ireland directly during the potato famine. They were married in NOv of 1850. Joe apparently married a woman from Brooklyn. He fell off the bridge and died of drowning. That's all I know.
M by e-mail December 17, 2004



Lars Kornelius Larsen
I have been trying to find a list of the names of death casualties (about 27 men) during the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. I have been working on our family genealogy and have come across references to my Great-Uncle LARS KORNELIUS LARSEN. These references describe that he died from a scaffolding fall while painting on the Brooklyn Bridge.
TLH by e-mail August 8, 1999



Lockwood
Subject: William Sylvester Lockwood
My family history information tells me that the father of subject individual( born Oct 9, 1831 in New York , NY ) died while working on the Brooklyn Bridge - perhaps of some disease or “plague.” His mother’s name was Charlotte and she was a seamstress. I do not know the father’s name or background , but would be very interested in any information, since the father is my great great great grandfather



James McLaren, John Maronna, John Maronna
Looking for information on my great grandfather James McLaren, stone mason on the bridge and klled in the 1880's and my husband's great uncle John Maronna also a stone mason and killed on bridge during construction, John Maronna was from Italy and my James McLaren from either England or Scotland.
I have since found out that James McLaren came over from Edinburgh, Scotland and his wife's name was Margaret.
FMM by e-mail April 10, 2002



Murphy
I have been searching for information on the casualties amoungst men building the Brooklyn Bridge. Our family's oral history has it that a relative, possibly my great, great grandfather , was killed whilst working on the bridge. It was because of this tragedy the family stayed in Ireland. His surname was MURPHY and he had lived in Wexford. By 1883 the family had moved to Dublin. Murphy may have left from Wexford or Dublin to go to America. Mary Murphy, either his daughter or grandaughter, was my great grandmother.
FC by e-mail Thursday, May 18, 2000 11:07 AM

I am continuing to search for a possible name for the unfortunate 'Murphy'. On her wedding certificate (Dublin 1883), Mary states her father was called Edward Murphy, a tradesman. She also states on the 1911 Census that she was born in Co. Wexford. My mother thinks it was Mary's father who left for America. She remembers hearing that the family left the farm in Co. Wexford and stayed in Dublin whilst the father went on to America and worked on the construction of the bridge. Due to his death, the family stayed in Dublin where Mary (Called 'Mimi') married Michael Murphy.
FC by e-mail Saturday, May 20, 2000 7:44 AM



John Murphy
I have finally found a name for my Murphy fatality on the BB. His name is John and he was a stone mason; he was my maternal great grandfather. I reckon he must have died somewhere between 1880 (a daughter was born around 1881) and 1883. Is it possible that somewhere in New York state there is some record (perhaps a death cert) of his death? It took 6 months for the news of his death to reach my great grandmother in Dublin, Ireland.

I don't know if the notification came in the form of a letter/telegram or by word of mouth. So far, FC's data does not tie up with mine but it is too early to rule out a link. I will keep you posted.
PH by e-mail Wednesday, March 02, 2005 7:48 AM

Contact established with FC and thanks a million for facilitating this. The pooled information is fairly scant at the moment and there is nothing so far to establish a firm link between the two stories. I hope to get access to the public records here (Dublin) within the next week or so and I should, at the very least, be able to confirm a christian name. Although the Brooklyn Bridge Co did not maintain a strict record of employees or deaths, is there a possibility that the death would have been recorded somewhere in New York state?
PH by e-mail Sunday, February 13, 2005 3:47 AM

My Great Grandfather Murphy, is reported to have died falling off Brooklyn Bridge. At the moment I have very little concrete information but I believe he was a stonemason from Co. Wexford, Ireland, and was involved in the construction of the bridge. At some point his family moved to Dublin (Dalkey), and his wife received the news of his death some six months after the event. I am presently searching the records to ascertain his Christian name, and further details of the family. I will let you have these as soon as they are available.

In the meantime, I am intrigued by the two notes published on your site regarding the death of Edward Murphy, as I feel it may refer to the same individual. I would very much like to contact FC, and I would be happy for you to pass on my e-mail address.
PH by e-mail Monday, January 31, 2005 3:35 PM





John Nakis
Oral history in our family has it that my great grandfather and his brothers owned a company who did the "red paint" on the bridge. We were told that one, John Nakis, died from a fall. Is there any way I can look up information to ascertain the verity of this family history? Is there a city record of contractors for the Brooklyn Bridge and/or other bridges which may be examined to find the painting company?
From SL by e-mail 13 Nov 02



Johannes Heinrich Seifer
I am searching information about my great-grandfather, an engeneer, killed during the building of the Brooklyn bridge. His name was Johannes Heinrich Seifer, born at Winterthur, Switzerland between 1840-1850. My grandfather Charles Heinrich Seifer born at Cleveland Ohio in 4 July 1870, used to relate that he lost his father while he was a little boy, in the building of the bridge in an accident which occured during the cable rigging.

I deduce that it could have happened in June of 1878 when a cable strand secured at the New York anchorage broke loose during adjustment. The strand flew over, taking off the top of one rigger`s head and knocking another off the anchorage along the way. Seeing the picture attached on the web, I infer that this could be the accident. I hope that I have contributed to your work, wishing to receive any related information. Thank you very much for your attention.
From AES by e-mail 18 July 05



Meta Busing Schmidt
According to a relative, my husband's great-grandmother was named Meta Busing Schmidt. She lived in Brooklyn and had two brothers who emigrated from Germany. Both were working on the Brooklyn Bridge and one was killed. Meta went and picked him up in a horse and carriage and brought him home.



Walter Solley
It is my belief that my great-great grandfather was killed while working on the Brooklyn Bridge. Born Walter Solley in Denmark in 1855, he is believed to have immigrated to the United States sometime in 1873.

Shortly thereafter he married my great-great grandmother Antoinette (b. 1858 d. 1883). They had one son, August (b. 1876 d. 1967). According to my great-grandmother, her husband often recounted how his father had died "in a terrible fall" while working on "Roebling's Bridge" in New York. "His body was never recovered." And, according to her, his mother never recovered from her husband's death; often showing up at the work site wandering around calling her husband's name.

Her parents took over raising the small child August. Even more tragically, Antoinette disappeared shortly after the bridge opened in 1883. A note left to the family in which she said she was "going to be with Walter" led them to believe she jumped from the bridge to her death.
TS by e-mail July 15, 2002



Tinney
In trying to do family research, I discovered notes that my great grandfather, John Franklin Tinney, who worked on the construction on the Brooklyn Bridge, had been killed on the job. He was of English or Irish descent, born approx. 1845-50. I have little other information on Tinney, but he at one time lived in Canada, and also had lived in Buffalo.
V by e-mail January 25, 2000



Thomas Talbot
My great-grandfather (my mother's grandfather), Thomas Talbot was rigger during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 26,1871: "Killed At The Bridge - Coroner Whitehall was notified this afternoon to hold an inquest on the body of Thomas Talbot, a laboring man, residing at 13 Hudson Ave., who died at the City Hospital this morning from the effects of injuries received on the 17th inst. by a fall, while working on the East River Bridge." I have a copy of his death certificate which is carelessly made out and difficult to read. It says he was 40 years old and born in Ireland although the death certificate of a son (also named Thomas Talbot) ,born in Nov.,1871,who only lived 10 days, says his father was born in Newfoundland. The death certificate of his wife Mary who died soon after,aged 38 says she was born Newfoundland. Both of these certificates are very difficult to make out. Another son, John Talbot (my grandfather), who had been born in1867, survived.

Please do add this information to your web page. I like the idea that he will be part of the historical record and think he would be pleased if he knew about it. I dug up the newspaper quote at the Brooklyn Historical Society back around 1969 and I think there was another summary article from the same paper about bridge fatalities, but I don't have a copy. Back then it was much easier to look through old news papers and personnel directories (pre-telephone books), but access is much more restricted now. The summary article would have appeared (I think) soon after the opening of the bridge,(or after it had been completed).
TD by e-mail 6 November 2006



Robert C. Quinn
My grandmother has always told the story of her brother, Robert C. Quinn from Spartanburg, SC, was killed while working on the bridge. I understand the record keeping was less that adequate, so I guess that's why I have never found any more information about this death.
RLR by e-mail 15 May 2003



Anonymous
My grand uncle left a small town in southern Ireland (Buttevant,Co Cork) towards the of the 1800's and died/killed some short time thereafter reputedly during construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.
MJ by e-mail 1999












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