The Brooklyn Bridge, 1883

"Scientists are people who build the Brooklyn Bridge and then buy it." - William F. Buckley, Jr.

Patty at Just Letter Rip stumbled across this blog and decided to send me a postcard.  (Always a good idea; you could send me one yourself.)  Of course, if you send something to Patty, too, chances are you’ll get something cool and crafty in return.  Patty exchanges both postcards and letters, whereas I usually get writer’s block when confronted with any writing space larger than the left side of a postcard.

This postcard shows “The Brooklyn Bridge seen from Brooklyn Heights soon after its completion in 1883.”  This looks like the kind of thing General George Washington could have used, when he was busy losing the first battle of the Revolutionary War (the Battle of Brooklyn, in August 1776).  The British destroyed two militias, but Washington was able to save the bulk of his force by rowing them across the East River under cover of fog, while the British lay siege to Brooklyn.

Before the battle, the British commander, Lord Howe, tried unsuccessfully to have a letter delivered to Washington to propose a meeting.  We presume today that Washington would not accept the letter because he doubted that any talks would be useful.  At the time, however, he used protocol as an excuse: officially, the British refused to recognize the Continental Army or Washington’s military rank, and so the letter was addressed to “Mr.” Washington.  Henry Knox, Washington’s artillery officer, wrote this account to his wife:

(Lord Howe) sent a flag of truce up to the city. They came within about four miles of the city, and were met by some of Colonel Tupper’s people, who detained them until his Excellency’s pleasure should be known.  Accordingly, Colonel Reed (Washington’s adjutant) and myself went down to the barge to receive the message. When we came to them, the (British) officer… rose up and bowed, keeping (on) his hat.

“I have a letter, sir, from Lord Howe to Mr. Washington.”

“Sir,” says Colonel Reed, “we have no person in our army with that address.”

“Sir,” says the officer, “will you look at the address?” He took out of his pocket a letter which was thus addressed:

George Washington, Esq.
New York

“No sir,” says Colonel Reed, “I cannot receive that letter.”

And you thought today’s postal addressing guidelines were picky.

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4 Responses

  1. Kristin says:

    I’m a postcard blogger, too, and finding your post today was serendipitous–just today I moved out of my beloved Brooklyn, on my way to graduate school in North Carolina. I miss views of the Brooklyn Bridge already!

    It is a fascinating structure–I used to work in the library of the Brooklyn Historical Society, and the history of the building of the bridge is pretty fascinating. I’m not sure where you live, but if you’re ever in Brooklyn, definitely visit the Society and check out the artifacts in the archives–goodies like tickets to parties celebrating the opening night of the bridge.

    • I live in Georgia now, but I’m originally from New Jersey, so I’ve been to Brooklyn on more than one occasion. Regrettably, I have never been to the Society.

      Interested as you are in New York and its history, I very much recommend you check out some of the works of Jack Finney: specifically, the novel Time and Again and its sequel, From Time to Time, two works about a time traveler. While the premise may be overused in the annals of fiction, the historical detail is incredibly well-researched and described. Finney also described his research itself, accompanied by a lot of photos and ephemera, in a book called Forgotten News.

  2. Hi Chris,

    Hey, I recognize this card. Thanks for featuring it and thanks for the extra info on the Brooklyn Bridge. Your card from a past life arrived today and I will be blogging about it soon. Also, thanks for plugging Just Letter Rip. I’m having a lot of fun with that.


  3. Sheila says:

    A fantastic card to have! It’s always good to be able to find out background information.

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