Thursday, April 28, 2011


Day 1: September 11th, 1870
 Frank Mc Callister
My name is Frank Mc Callister I live in Brooklyn and I am 38 years old. I have a wife and two lovely girls. Unfortunately, I can’t give them the life they deserve. In fact, I’ve been looking for a job for more than six months and I haven’t been able to feed my family properly. But one day, as I was walking down Fulton Street, I suddenly saw a strange paper hanging on the wall of an empty store. I walked towards this strange looking paper to get a closer look. I could read,“Laborers NEEDED FOR CONSTRUCTION OF THE ‘BROOKLYN BRIDGE’.’’  As I examined the paper I could read the location of the sign up. I walked back home to tell my wife, she was in tears. As I left the house, I took the bus to the office where the registration was done to participate in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Once there, I was given a sheet which I filled up with personal information. As I read, I was paid $2.25 by the day.

Day 2: September 12th, 1870
Susan Mc Callister
         Ode to Joy! My husband, my amazing husband has found employment! It has been so long since we have had a decent meal, a good house (we live on140 West Eighth Street between 6th and 7th Avenue) because we had to move due to lack of money and our poor girls have not had a proper education. I had to educate them based on my own school-based knowledge. Finally, after six months, finally free of the curse of debt. Our lives have been so hard! With no money for electricity, we have been working with candle light. With poor plumbing we have been having pipes break left and right and having to pay a plumber to get them fixed isn’t easy. Though clothes are a lot cheaper thanks to new machines, we still don’t have enough in our savings to buy new clothes. We didn’t even have enough money to put in the bank since you need a minimum and we don’t have enough. Right now our savings are under our mattress. The winter has been very harsh, we have no money for coal-powered heating, and since we have little to no clothes we’re lucky if we survive. Though it pays 1$ per day it is better than nothing. At this point any amount of money will help us. Nothing could possibly get worse, only better.

Day 3: September 16th, 1870
Frank Mc Callister
It’s my first day of going to work. Susan prepared a lovely sandwich for me to eat at lunch and my daughters are going on their first day of school of the year. Everything is perfect and the weather is beautiful. As I was walking near the entrance of the factory, I could see about a couple of hundred men walking down the streets. They all look alike, hefty with a long beard. A lot of them came from Europe. I’ve heard that John Roebling had offered workers the chance to come from Europe to New York and help with the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. As I was walking down the entrance of the factory, I could see rows of chairs filling the room. There was also a stand with a microphone on it at the very end of the room. I took a seat and guessed that we were having an assembly. A man with a beard and short hair wearing a very nice suit walked toward the stand. His name was John Roebling and he was a very nice looking man. I’ve heard that his full name was John Augustus Roebling; he was born June 12, 1806 in Muhlhausen and died July 22 1869. He was a civil engineer, and was famous for his wire rope suspension bridge design. He talked about our job’s tasks and our job’s conditions. He also talked about our salaries and the consequences to failure of our tasks; if we didn’t respect the rules or disobeyed, a part of our salaries would be reduced. I was assigned to the caissons; we were warned that the conditions in the caissons were very hard. After those words he left the room. We were given numbers to recognize the workers; my number was 102. Once the numbers were given, we were each assigned to our lockers; they were numbered by our identity numbers.

          Day 4: September 20th 1870 
Frank Callister
Today is my second day of work. Since the second I woke up, I was extremely nervous. I couldn’t stop thinking of the way people are at the work site. I ate my breakfast with a strange feeling; I felt empty inside. I left the house and took the bus to the factory; it was a thirty minute ride. Once I arrived at the factory, I went to my locker to change into my working clothes. I noticed that a little boy was crying in a corner. I came closer, and asked him what was wrong.  He told me that he came from
Europe. Apparently, Europeans were sent to New York to help with the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. The little boy arrived with his dad and brother; it must have been sad leaving his mother. I patted the kid’s shoulder and comforted him. As soon as he stopped crying, I left with my shovel to start working. My current work site was the caissons. As we went there, the look on my fellow co-workers' face was ungraspable. I couldn’t tell if they were happy or sad; most of them looked displeased. Indeed it made me feel uncomfortable. As they appeared to me, the caissons were large wooden boxes with no bottoms. Inside the caissons, the atmosphere was always misty and the caissons were dimly lit. The task we were given was to keep digging until we reached solid bedrock. The working conditions in the caisson were exceedingly difficult.
Day 5: November 22nd 1870
            Susan Callister
          Finally, we are able to afford a turkey for Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is always celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. My girls are so happy and so am I. Since Frank has been working at the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, our financial situation has been better and we have been living decently but not exactly how we want to. In fact, as much as Frank puts all his energy to this work, his salary can’t cover all our expenses. But thankfully this year, our Thanksgiving is composed of home cooked pumpkin pie, a small stuffed turkey, corn bread and an oyster soup. I paid 10 dollars for this whole meal but it was worth it.  I am very happy that Frank’s friend joined us for the jolly event. Our house is very small and our family and Frank’s friend can barely fit inside. Our furniture is dull and cheap. Our house is composed of 3 rooms: the kitchen, the living room where my girls sleep and our bedroom. We share the bathroom, which is outside, with the whole building. We are all sitting around the table now, hand in hand and Frank is about to make a speech:
“Thank you Lord. You have given me a beautiful family: a wonderful wife whom I love with all my heart, two lovely girls for whom I would do anything to make them a happy and loyal and trustworthy friend. Thank you Lord for having surrounded me with such amazing people. You have been generous and gave us a decent Thanksgiving! I am very thankful too that I am in good health when the work conditions are not that great.”
I started to get emotional and my eyes watered a little: I am so proud of my husband! When the girls went to bed, Frank, his friend Harry and I went in the living room and discussed the evolution of the bridge.
“It’s very dangerous", says Harry "Every time I leave my family to go to work I’m always scared it’s the last time I’m ever going to see them!”
"Let us not talk bad about our job, for it is the one that allows having such a nice feast", replies Frank.
"And I am just as thankful as you are. But the conditions are very bad. When we work in the caissons, digging away the mud and bedrock at the bottom of the river, my breathing gets heavier and heavier. I can’t breath properly and my energy leaves me and…"'
"Enough! I know our job is not the best one around but at least we have something to eat at night!" yells Frank nervously.
"Calm sweetie, let’s go to bed now, it’s late", I intervene.
And so we did, but that night I couldn’t sleep, I was worried about what was going to happen the next day.

         Day 6: December 2nd 1870
           Susan Mc Callister
         When I hear the door open, my heart fills with joy! I run towards the entrance and jump into Frank’s arms. Oh I have been worrying all day long about Frank’s health. Lately he has come home very late at night. I noticed his hands were burned.
"What happened?" I asked.
"There was fire damage today in the caisson. A huge fire came out of nowhere and in three minutes it expanded through the whole caisson. And…"
"Wait a second. What is a caisson… Are you okay? Did anyone get hurt?" I was very worried.
"It’s all fine now. A caisson is the platform on which the towers of the bridge stand. They’re large wooden boxes with no bottom. They touch the bottom of the river and it is where we have to pump the compressed air into the chambers to keep the water from rushing in. We dug the mud away and it is very hard and dangerous because the air doesn’t circulate well which makes it hard to breath. People like me can handle it but today I saw an elderly man suffocate. They had to take him away in a gurney, I felt horrible…  Right after, a spark flew and the fire started. All I could see was smoke. People were yelling, screaming and crying. I heard a man’s voice ordering us to exit the caisson immediately through the entry. The door was blocked and I had to push it to be able to evacuate. That’s how I got my finger burned. But I am okay, don’t worry, nobody died."
This worried me but no matter how hard I begged him to stay home with us, he wouldn’t listen to me and would say that without this job we were nothing. I hope he’s wrong.

Day 7: December 13th 1870                  
Frank Mc Callister
During the coldest season of the year, leaving the house was terrifying. The weather outside was brutal. The wind was strong and cold, the snow was hard and constantly falling. Not only building the bridge was difficult; imagine constructing it under these conditions. Life during this time of the year was a nightmare. The part of the bridge that was already constructed was slippery and people fell easily. There were a lot more injuries than usual. I didn’t have winter clothes and my body was freezing. The pieces of snow shattered on my neck and the wind made it worse and I couldn’t afford warm clothes because my salary wasn’t decent and I was focused on taking food home to my family. The powerful blizzard made it very hard to see and the metal was cold and hard to handle. The construction was slower and slower, harder and harder… The chiefs of the construction crew wanted us to work without rest because we needed to work as fast as usual. I hope to make it until next season when the sun will rise high upon the sky.

DAY 8: December 25th 1870
Susan Mc Callister
 It’s Christmas! The nicest and jolliest time of the year! Thanks to the job, we can finally afford gifts! I got the girls each one toy, for Juliette a Spinning Top and for Lucy a game of Jacks. They were hard to find, since everyone wants them, but I succeeded anyway. Finally for Frank, I got him a pair of leather gloves for his work. He almost caught frost bite many times. The gloves were very expensive, three dollars and fifty cents is as much as three days worth of meals! But I’m fully confident that they will serve him well, though recently I have been noticing that he has been weakening. I have noticed that his ribs are starting to show. Sometimes I wonder if he has any lunch breaks, I pack him water and a ham and cheese sandwich every day but when he comes home it’s three quarters finished. His fingers are getting bony. Actually, everything is getting a little bony. I am starting to worry but I will not bring this up today, but sometime soon. I have to tell him that something is going wrong. Not only is he getting weak but he is getting rashes, his lymph nodes are getting swollen, he’s getting sick (such as vomiting, ringing in ears, partial deafness etc…) and you can see his face change into one of a tortured man in every step he takes. But not today, today is a day of no worries. Our small tree (since a big one is expensive) is bright and the snow is slowly falling outside. Everything is peaceful and I will not disrupt it… not today.
Day 9: February 10th 1871
Frank Mc Callister
 The weather got worse and I was very worried about the freezing wind and glacial snow. Working on the Brooklyn Bridge became my biggest fear. I was now afraid of dying, and yet I haven’t said the worst part. The chief of the construction crew offered me a very dangerous job: My “mission” was to go with a partner on top of the East Side Tower and connect a wired cable to make it solid and safer. I wasn’t sure if I should accept the job immediately; this is why I talked about it to my family. If I accepted the job, the good thing would be that my salary would get a little higher and it would be good for the family, but the bad news of course is that the risk of falling or slipping and possibly dying was high. I heard that 26 workers had died because of either wire snapping or falling because of a frozen surface. Harry died because of falling off an icy surface. The job was hard and the conditions were unimaginable. I don’t know what I will do, but I will figure it out.

Day 10: February 20th 1871
Susan Mc Callister
Today Frank told me about his new project: he is now working on the cables. The cables support a central tower and are attached to the tower top or sometimes to several levels. It is very dangerous work and I am really scared for Harry. In fact there are 19 strands in one cable which can present a danger. If one of them snaps, my dear husband Harry can be deadly wounded by falling to a watery grave and be hit in the face… I don’t want that to happen. Plus, each cable’s dead weight is 3,240 kips and one kip is equal to 1000 lbs. If a cable snaps, there is no way Harry can escape… death! Oh, I don’t want Harry to work there anymore. But he won’t listen to me, he says that if he refuses this new post he will get fired. I think his health is more important than the money… If something happens, I am going to have to take care of my girls all alone. Oh my! How are we going to survive? There is no way I can take care of my family on my own. I want Harry to quit this job even though it is the one that keeps us alive. I will do anything, I promise my Lord, I will get a job and bring my girls to work so I can stay there more. Just, just make Harry quit this job… I have a bad feeling about Harry working at this post… Oh Lord, help me!

Day 11: March 3rd 1871
Frank Mc Callister
I had finally taken a decision after a long time thinking about it. I was now ready for my challenge. I took this decision because I knew I wasn’t acting as a real father. I wasn’t providing enough food for my family and I knew I could do a lot more. The next day I talked to my chief and I told him that I was ready to inspect the fastening of that cable. He immediately gave me the right equipment and he showed me and my partner, who just happened to be Harry. We carefully and slowly climbed towards the cable. The surface was cold and frozen and the falling snow hit me all over my unprotected face. It was very difficult and hard to advance towards the cable. Once I reached the steel cable, my mind could only think about my children and my wife. What I was doing was for them, and I wouldn’t let go. Our mission was very simple but dangerous. The people who fastened it had to take the cable and plug it in the hoop so that the bridge would be stable and safer, all we have to do is inspect whether it’s well done or not. I was moving towards the hoop but the fog was very strong and made it difficult to see. I was mostly paying attention to my feet and making sure I wouldn’t slip. Done! I had done it; my mission was successful without injuries. I instantly knew that my family would be proud of me. But wait…!
 Day 12: March 18th 1871
  Susan Mc Callister
            It was eleven o’clock, and Frank should have been home. He promised to come home earlier, at least in time for dinner, and it was four hours before. The girls were asleep; I told them that when they woke up Daddy would be home. I tried to stay calm, but it was hard. I sat in the broken down chair with three holes on the seat rocking back and forth waiting for a sign of life. Occasionally I would hear some kids in the street who came back from a bar, but none of them sounded like Frank. I sat, my body temperature rising, and I started to shake. As I nibbled on some left over bread, I glanced at the clock. It was twelve-thirty. I felt my body go pale. I turned to stone. Where was Frank? Why wasn’t he home yet? I knew that task was a bad idea. But no amount of nagging would help. I started shaking and my teeth started to chatter. I was about to pass out, but as soon as I was about to close my eyes, there was a knock on the door. I felt my blood rushing through my veins, color coming back to my face, and my body filled with happiness. I got up to open the door and I heard another knock followed by three more. Frank had a key, so why would he knock? Five more knocks followed, they sounded desperate. I got a little scared so I grabbed the nearest blunt object. With an umbrella in my hand I opened the door. To my surprise Frank wasn’t there. Harry was. He looked like a ghost, his skin white as sheets. His eyes were red, as if he’d been crying.
“Harry! Where’s Frank?!” I yelled.
“Susan…” he said in a soft voice.
“No!! Where… is… Frank?” I yelled at the top of my lungs.
The girls immediately came out of their room. I told them to go upstairs; there was nothing to worry about.
“Susan listen to me…,” He said in an insisting voice.
“NO! What did you do to him?! Where is he!?” I yelled. I hope the girls couldn't hear.
“He’s dead!” he yelled.
I felt my blood go cold. I stared at him blankly. I felt I had just seen a ghost. As soon as I knew it I fainted.
When I woke up, it was three a.m. and Harry was standing over me, his eyes redder than before. I had a towel on my forehead. As soon as I knew I was conscious, I sat up and yelled:
“Where is Frank!?”
“Susan, Frank died while working,” he said in a very calm voice.
“Wh-What? W-Why? How?!” I said in a panicked yet calm voice.
“We were tightening down wires and Frank’s job was to make sure they were bolted down well. But unfortunately, due to the fact that it was foggy, we didn’t do an amazing job. While inspecting, the wire broke loose and slapped him in the stomach and face killing him instantly. Since the bridge is still a skeleton, he fell through and is now following the current of the river. We are all sorry for your loss. He was a hard worker,” he explained.
That was all I needed to hear to break down in tears. I sobbed for hours, days and years.
Now when I look up at that bridge that is now finished, I look up at the work that Frank has done and I hope that people who use the bridge appreciate the hard work they have done. 

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