Sunday, 15 March 2009


Steve Brodie (1863-1901)(above) was a bookmaker from Brooklyn who claimed to have jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge (below) and survived on July 23, 1886. His claim that he jumped for a $200 bet won him instant celebrity. Some months earlier a daredevil named Robert Odlum was killed attempting the same dive, so Brodie's alleged accomplishment made front page headlines in New York City and eventually acquired myth status.

Like most urban legends, this incident was probably a hoax because the odds of anyone surviving the 135 foot plunge are practically nil. Skeptics claimed that Brodie had a friend toss a dummy off the bridge while he hid under a nearby pier, then swam out when rescue boats approached the scene.

Hoax or not, Brodie became famous, and his name became slang; "to pull or do a Steve Brodie" came to be understood to do something flamboyant and dangerous, a suicide leap, fall or flop.
His undoubted talent lay in his ability capitalise on his disputed claims to fame. He was a shrewd self-promoter who managed to milk his 15 minutes of fame into lasting notoriety. He went on to star in vaudeville musicals and operated a Bowery saloon-museum at 114, Bowery (below) that became a popular tourist attraction displaying a mural of his 'jump', the clothes he wore, and a signed affidavit from the barge captain who fished him out of the East River.

It is said that Jim Corbett once took his father to Brodie's saloon. The elder Corbett extended his hand and said, "I've always wanted to meet the man who jumped over the Brooklyn Bridge."
"He didn't jump over the bridge, Father," Jim said. "He jumped off it."
"Shucks," said the older man, turning to go. "I thought he jumped over it. Any damn fool can jump off it!"

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