Lonely Planet Writer

76-Second Travel Show: 'Manhattan Bridge's 100th birthday party'


Travel's best experiences are frequently found near iconic attractions, but not always at them.

A quarter mile from New York City's legendary Brooklyn Bridge, the comparable outcast Manhattan Bridge opened to minimal fanfare 100 years ago. The next day, the New York Times described a 'little cavalcade of automobiles and carriages,' explaining 'New Yorkers are accustomed to the opening of bridges.'

ANOTHER bridge?, the article seemed to suggest. No big deal.

Literature doesn’t pick up much 'MB love' either. In Kenneth Jackson’s sprawling anthology Empire City, Le Corbusier calls the George Washington the world’s most beautiful, Joan Didion remembers Triboro Bridge views from her first New York home, and Theodore Dreiser describes the 'operatic dawn scene' of Jewish commuters walking across the Williamsburg Bridge.

Not one paragraph in all its 1000 pages is allocated for the Manhattan.

And this seems to be the standard. The expansive AIA Guide to New York City merely offers its location. In Phillip Lopate’s walk around Manhattan in Waterfront, he pauses only to note it looks green from below.

Simon & Garfunkel, meanwhile, sang about the erector-set Queensboro Bridge in the '59th St Bridge Song' while Woody Allen used the same as the backdrop from the memorable park-bench scene from the 1979 film Manhattan. Phil Collins got closest to the Manhattan, when in 1985 the balding travel-drummer (also see Live Aid's London-to-Philadelphia self-promoting appearances) shot his 'Take Me Home' video nearby, at the Brooklyn Bridge.

When I found out the Manhattan Bridge was set to turn 100, about a year ago while making walking tours for Lonely Planet's last New York City guide, I immediately checked for celebrations. The NYC Bridge Centennial Commission did plan one, holding it two months early (for 'convenience' for the commissioners).

And I checked for books devoted to the bridge too. The lone tome I could find on today’s centenarian, Manhattan Bridge by Thomas R Winpenny, is out-of-print -- and focuses on the bridge's architectural failings. And musically, the bridge lives in a lyrical desert. Blues Traveler’s song 'Manhattan Bridge' is a brooding instrumental.

The bridge does make it as a suicide spot in the 1984 Steve Martin film 'The Lonely Guy.'

So on December 31, despite a snowstorm and the city's frantic interest in Times Square's celebrations that night, we held a birthday celebration of our own. I asked local musician Beau Scott Jennings to write a song for the occasion, marking (I believe) the debut of a Manhattan Bridge song with lyrics.

Manhattan Bridge, happy birthday!

First photo below by Grant Martin (of Gadling.com), others by Matt Watt.

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