No. 458
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
January 27, 2020

“Daredevil” Steve Brodie

New York, New York – July 23, 1886.
February 17, 2011
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As regular readers of my blog (all three of you) may have noticed, I have, without really intending to, built a subcategory of stories of people who are found strangely, inexplicably dead. All these cases are puzzling, but there are few that top the end of an otherwise completely normal man named Zigmund Adamski. In fact, some will tell you his death was positively otherworldly. Zigmund
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Strange Company - 1/27/2020

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(Click image to enlarge) new quote attributed to bad man "Soapy" Smith Discovered in an edition of the Alaska Mining Record, April 5, 1899. ______________________ The sensational press of the east are now engaging in some real pipe dreams of their own, and allow a column or two of Canadian and American fights on the Atlin and Porcupine border to creep into their paper. One
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 1/16/2020

Never heard of “Raisin Street” in Greenwich Village? If you lived in the nascent city of New York in the early years of the 19th century, you might have traversed it. The rise and demise of this little street has a curious backstory. “Raisin Street” was a corruption of “Reason Street,” the name given to […]
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Ephemeral New York - 1/27/2020
Beginning on January 1st, W&W will begin featuring fascinating short clippings from the Fall River papers and other newspapers from …

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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 12/29/2019
The Rogers family were early settlers in Blue Lick Springs, Kentucky, having fought a bloody battle with Indians to secure their homestead. They never lost their frontier zeal for violence as a tool for solving problems, even for family disputes which, apparently, were frequent and quite intense. In the 1880s, Willis Rogers had eight children, five boys and three girls. In the heat of an
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Murder By Gaslight - 1/25/2020

Blood accumulates upon us. Verily, it does seem that the reins of justice have been loosely thrown to the devil, and that we are all driving at breakneck speed in the same direction. -Nashville Banner (via) On this date in 1866, four youths employed as teamsters in the Army corrals of Union-occupied Nashville were hanged […]
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Executed Today - 1/26/2020
[Editor’s note: Guest writer, Peter Dickson, lives in West Sussex, England and has been working with microfilm copies of The Duncan Campbell Papers from the State Library of NSW, Sydney, Australia. The following are some of his analyses of what he has discovered from reading these papers. Dickson has contributed many transcriptions to the Jamaica Family […]
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Early American Crime - 2/7/2019
Crush Collision! | Welcome to The National Night Stick

“Daredevil” Steve Brodie

Steve Brodie

New York, New York – July 23, 1886. 23-year-old Steve Brodie, Bowery newsboy and “long-distance pedestrian," made a miraculous 120 foot leap off the Brooklyn Bridge into the East River and lived to tell about it. Friends waiting in a rowboat below pulled the dazed but unharmed Brody from the water and rowed him to shore. He was arrested for attempted suicide and taken to New York’s Tombs prison, but his lawyer successfully argued that there was no statute under which could be held. The charge of suicide was ridiculous because Brodie had made the jump to win a bet. [more] 

Steve Brodie was an instant celebrity, becoming the public face of the Bowery, the most notorious neighborhood in America. The stunt made headlines throughout New York and Brody was paid $500 a week to appear at Alexander’s Museum. The problem was, no one outside of Brodie’s entourage actually saw him make the jump. A reporter named Ernest Jerrold (whose byline was Mickey Finn) tracked down and interviewed everyone near the bridge that day and confirmed that no one unconnected with Brodie saw him leave the bridge. It was suspected that a confederate had dropped a weighted dummy from the bridge while Brodie waited in a rowboat below. On the signal, he slipped into the water and emerged at the spot where the dummy hit.

Brodies-Saloon
Steve Brodie's Saloon

The public ignored any skepticism and passionately embraced the story of Steve Brodie’s leap from the Brooklyn Bridge. He opened a saloon in the Bowery that became a popular hangout for sporting men and prizefighters such John L. Sullivan, Jim Corbett, and Jim Jefferies. It was also a major tourist attraction, and when the boxers were not in attendance he would hire actors to portray them for the benefit of out-of-towners.

Theatre Poster, 1894

Brodie continued his bridge jumping career by allegedly leaping from the Poughkeepsie bridge, the Harlem High Bridge, the Cincinnati Suspension Bridge. He also attempted to swim the Niagara rapids in a rubber suit. In 1894 he starred in a hit musical play called On the Bowery in which the hero jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge to save the heroine. He played the part with an extreme Bowery accent, singing the centerpiece song “My Pearl” as “My Poil is a Bowery goil…”

Steve Brodie was a master of self-promotion, constantly making headlines. In 1891, when New York was in a frenzy over the Jack-the-Ripper-like murder of prostitute Carrie Brown, Brodie reported he had found a piece of the dead woman’s intestines in front of the hotel where she was killed. The coroner later determined that it was a cat’s intestine. Everything Brodie did was big news until 1898 when he faked his own death. He was in Cleveland performing with Gus Hill’s vaudeville company in a sketch entitled “One Night in Brodie’s Barroom” and reportedly suffered a heart attack on stage. After Brody triumphantly appeared alive back at his saloon, the papers were reluctant to take any more of his stories at face value.

Steve Brodie died (for the last and final time) of tuberculosis, in San Antonio, Texas, on January 31, 1901. He had left New York several months earlier and moved to Texas to “die in peace.” In St. Louis an admirer asked him about his health and his bridge-jumping experience. The ever-colorful Steve Brodie replied:

“Well, young feller, it's hard ter say, even if yer say it fast, but me time’s come. I’ve got the ‘con’ for fair, and I’m as good as a dead corpse. Bridge-jumping? Say. You take an old fool’s advice. If yer wanter get off the car, just reach up and pull the strap, and wait till it stops. See?”

 


Sources:

Every, Edward. Sins of New York as exposed” by the Police gazette, . New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1930.
Sante, Luc. Low life: lures and snares of old New York. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1991.