A Modern Brooklyn Bridge Mystery

On July 22, 2014 people noticed the American flags on the 276-foot Brooklyn Bridge towers were missing, replaced with what appeared to be white surrender flags.

What did these surrender flags symbolize? And was it a warning for something worse to come?

Police scrambled to find an explanation, scanning video surveillance recordings. Intelligence agencies looked at what this date might have mean to terrorist groups. Fortunately these were flags and not bombs.

Then, one group took responsibility: @BicycleLobby posted to their Twitter account that this was a surrender of the bridge to bicycles, but this turned out to be a hoax.

The flags weren’t white flags, though. These were American flags that had been bleached.

In my Instagram post below, the flag on the Brooklyn Bridge tower looks bleached on this gray day, but don’t worry, it was a normal flag.

Video Surveillance

Two and a half hours of video surveillance offered the most hope. At 3:30 a.m., five people were seen, climbing a locked gate and scaling a bridge cable to reach the top of the tower. But then, the lights on the towers went dark!

The individuals had placed aluminum cooking pans to the lights.

NYPD anti-terrorism chief John Miller was astonished at the level of preparation involved. Meanwhile, New Yorkers were furious that this could have happened!

Case Closed?

On August 12, 2014, the New York Times reported that two Berlin-based groups had taken responsibility for the flag switch. But why?

Through a series of phone calls, Mischa Leinkauf and Matthias Wemke explained that they did this as a tribute to John Augustus Roebling, the German immigrant who designed the bridge and died on July 22, 1869, during construction of the iconic bridge. 

As Engineer John Augustus Roebling stood on a ferry slip, a boat crushed his toes. He decided to treat the wound himself with hydrotherapy, using unboiled water! Roebling died three weeks later from Tetanus. Roebling’s son and daughter-in-law finished the bridge construction.

The German artists’ tribute was to the wonderful use of public space that Roebling provided. They hoisted the flags on the anniversary of Roebling’s death. They also requested that police return their flags.

Four years later, the two artists returned to the United States to face charges.

About Our Photos

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16 thoughts on “A Modern Brooklyn Bridge Mystery”

  1. I remember when that happened and it freaked me out. I’m glad to hear the explanation wasn’t someone with evil intentions. I love a good mystery, but these days thing like that out me on edge.

    1. I remember the original story but I must have missed the follow-up. People are still frightened about terrorism. It’s not just the media that fuels that fire, either.

  2. Wow, that’s a fascinating way to pay tribute to Roebling! I feel utterly ignorant but I don’t think I’d ever heard of this having happened, so thank you for sharing. x

  3. Interesting mystery. I’m glad it got solved. The tale of the engineer is astonishing. I had an uncle who died of tetanus; it was called lockjaw during that time period. I’m so thankful we can prevent that now.

  4. Hello Aixa! I’m so happy to see your blog again. I haven’t been active blogging but just posted something today. Are you now living in Guatemala?

    1. Hi Boots! I’ve thought about you and checked your blog for updates a few times. Glad to see you back! I haven’t moved yet but very very soon! I can’t wait!

      1. Well I definitely would like to hear all about it! My older son went there when he was a senior in high school with his school. It was a medical service trip. He had some funny stories with his Spanish but there were also some sad ones with the women they saw. But overall was a great experience for him.

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