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Local Legends | A Place in the Sky

Williamsburg BridgePhilip Kalantzis Cope

October 25, 1903. Up until about 4 p.m. on that listless Sunday, the only topic of interest had been the weather. The first chill of autumn had fallen, and everyone strolling the Brooklyn shore that day sought out their own little place in the sun.

But suddenly all complacency ended when a flash-mob of children burst on the scene. In a split-second they were all over the place, incited by none other than one of their own, a street urchin calling from the foot of the docks. He yodeled a series of “melodious yelps,” the eternal high sign, common to all kids, that something was up. And so, crazy with delight, laughing and screaming, the little ones invaded the East River piers.

This extraordinary commotion drew the attention of hundreds. They pressed forward, en masse, to behold what had amazed their children that hour: the sight of two people, a young lady and her escort, ascending one of the cables of the Williamsburg Bridge.

It was a full two months before the bridge was to open. The giant span was still festooned with the catwalks the crew had used to tighten the wires. One of these contrivances is what beckoned the dare-devils to steal aboard. But what a treacherous route to heaven it was — nothing but slats, 20 inches wide. A few unlucky workers had already fallen from these catwalks. Would the young woman and this man soon join them in death?
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Boss Rat

ratpoison_0573aTim Milk

Just a few years ago, in the face of a widespread rodent infestation, a concerned citizen offered the suggestion that New York would do well to appoint a “Rat Czar.” City Hall firmly said no. The idea was, indeed, preposterous. Especially when you consider that the rats themselves had already filled that position.

The Rat Czar is, by all accounts, a shadowy figure, whereabouts unknown. My calls were not returned directly. But the Czar’s own Lieutenant of the East Village, a rat of great cunning, agreed to speak on condition of anonymity:

“I apologize for the security precautions,” he said as we sat down, “but you see, someone is trying to poison me.”

“Oh, how awful,” I exclaimed. “Any idea who’s behind it?”

“No,” he huffed. “It was but a single, cowardly act.”
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