19th Century Daredevils and The Brooklyn Bridge!

For many people, the price of fame has always been worth the risk! In 1885, just two years after the Brooklyn Bridge opened, spectators boarded a tugboat to witness Robert Emmet Odium jump off the Brooklyn Bridge in his quest for glory! He would be the first to ever attempted such a stunt!

Odium had an excuse for his dangerous jump. He was going to show people that you don’t die falling through the air. Buildings in NYC were getting taller all the time. The was a public service to people in burning buildings, letting them know it would be okay to jump into the nets below.

Odium was a professional swimmer, but still understood that this stunt would not be easy. He hired a rescue swimmer, just in case.

Odium made his jump, but a strong wind gust turned Odium in mid-dive. He hit the water at the wrong angle, rupturing his spleen, liver and kidneys and breaking several ribs.

The rescue swimmer didn’t even jump in to save him, but one of his friends did. He pulled Odium onto the tugboat, still alive. Odium died later that same day.

Of course, the challenge was set! Others had to try it!

Bridge Jumper Hoax

About a year later, Steve Brodie claimed to be the first to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge and live. He was celebrated just briefly but it was discovered that he faked the jump. He had his friend throw a dummy from the bridge!

Bridge Jumper Learns From Others’ Mistakes!

Later that same year, Larry Donovan jumped from the bridge and lived! His jump was confirmed and validated! Donovan’s wikipedia page lists him as: Larry Donovan – Bridge Jumper. The Brooklyn Bridge was not his first stunt. He had already jumped from several others, including the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge!

View of Niagara Falls from the Rainbow Bridge
I took this photo from the Rainbow Bridge, which replaced the decaying Suspension Bridge in 1941.

Of course, Donovan knew of Odium’s fate, and he prepared. Donovan jumped wearing oversized baseball sneakers, each weighted with insoles filled with zinc. This would ensure that a wind gust wouldn’t be able to alter his angle during his 143-foot dive!

The NY Times reported his jump this way:

His black hat flew off, then his legs were seen to tremble, and just before he struck the water, they parted. Some people on the docks cried, “He’s dead. It’s all over with him!”

But Donovan’s head then popped up through the water’s surface and he reached in the direction of one of the rescue boats. Once he got to shore, the police arrested him. Donovan ate breakfast at the police precinct and then went before the judge, who fined him $10 for obstructing traffic on the bridge.

Donovan found that he was able to support himself with his daredevil stunts. He continued with his daredevil jumps until the day he died in an attempt of, ironically, a much smaller bridge, the Hungerford Bridge in London.

These days, nobody jumps off of the Brooklyn Bridge. Instead, they hang off of moving trains and stand on the edges of cliffs to get extra Instagram likes. For some, the lure of fame is very powerful!


Sightseeing should be more than learning dates and architectural styles. Look a little deeper and you find the stories behind the places.



    • Thank you, Debbie! The story was so much fun to learn, especially seeing those newspaper articles from the day!

  • A fascinating post, Aixa! That must have been terrifying if Odium realised during the jump the wind had caught him. Very interesting about Donovan, and his attempt as weighting his shoes. Ironic to die jumping off a smaller bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge is infamous and the scene so beautiful, that it’s not surprising there’s such allure to jumping off it and making a headline. But a high price to pay if it’s not successful… x

    • Very true, Caz, about it being a high price to pay! I wonder how he must have felt during the fall! Thank you for reading, Caz!

  • Poor Robert! And I also can’t believe Donovan was arrested by the police after he survived! It’s a crazy world when people risk their lives for fame but I guess they’ve been doing it for a long time now. And probably will continue to. An intriguing post and story Aixa.

    • Thank you, Miriam! I think it must be something in some people’s DNA but I’m glad I don’t have it!

  • Jumping from a particular height into water can be like landing on cement if done improperly. Fascinating article, Aixa, and of course, great pic! Too many people though still going for the trick selfies and losing their lives. 😑

    • I think you would know better than most of us! People love their moments of fame. I’m glad I’m not one of them! Thank you for reading, Terri!

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