No. 661
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
July 25, 2024

“Daredevil” Steve Brodie

February 17, 2011
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Via Newspapers.com There are a number of stories of churches haunted by spectral organists.  This example appeared in the "Ottawa Citizen," October 24, 1956:TORQUAY, England--The vicar says that when Henry plays the organ in vine-covered St. John's Church the music is something, but you can't help noticing you can see right through him. The vicar, Rev. Anthony Rouse, reported the
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Strange Company - 7/24/2024
Included in yesterday’s trip to Fall River was a stop at Miss Lizzie’s Coffee shop and a visit to the cellar to see the scene of the tragic demise of the second Mrs. Lawdwick Borden and two of the three little children in 1848. I have been writing about this sad tale since 2010 and had made a previous trip to the cellar some years ago but was unable to get to the spot where the incident occured to get a clear photograph.  The tale of Eliza Borden is a very sad, but not uncommon story of post partum depression with a heartrending end. You feel this as you stand in the dark space behind the chimney where Eliza ended her life with a straight razor after dropping 6 month old Holder and his 3 year old sister Eliza Ann into the cellar cistern. Over the years I have found other similar cases, often involving wells and cisterns, and drownings of children followed by suicides of the mothers. These photos show the chimney, cistern pipe, back wall, dirt and brick floor, original floorboards forming the cellar ceiling and what appears to be an original door. To be in the place where this happened is a sobering experience. My thanks to Joe Pereira for allowing us to see and record the place where this sad occurrence unfolded in 1848. R.I.P. Holder, Eliza and Eliza Ann Borden. Visit our Articles section above for more on this story. The coffee shop has won its suit to retain its name and has plans to expand into the shop next door and extend its menu in the near future.
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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 2/12/2024
The low-rise, mostly commercial stretch of Brooklyn’s 18th Avenue running through Bensonhurst has a historic feel. That’s due in part to the circa-1829 New Utrecht Reformed Church and replica Liberty Pole facing the avenue. But a pocket park a few blocks away at 18th Avenue and 82nd Street contains an even more curious artifact from […]
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Ephemeral New York - 7/22/2024
An article I recently wrote for the British online magazine, New Politic, is now available online. The article, “The Criminal Origins of the United States of America,” is about British convict transportation to America, which took place between the years 1718 and 1775, and is the subject of my book, Bound with an Iron Chain: […]
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Early American Crime - 12/17/2021
 On Saturday, January 25, 1879, George Rowell returned home to Montville, Maine, from a trip to Bath, eighteen miles away. He lived in the house owned by John and Salina McFarland, a married couple in their seventies. Rowell, 40, married their son’s widowed wife, Abby, who had a 14-year-daughter, Cora McFarland. She also had an infant son with Rowell. All six lived together in the Montville
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Murder By Gaslight - 7/20/2024
CHIEF OF CONSThe Morning Times(Cripple Creek, Colorado)February 15, 1896Courtesy of Mitch Morrissey ig Ed Burns robs a dying man?      Mitch Morrissey, a Facebook friend and historian for the Denver District Attorney’s Office, found and published an interesting newspaper piece on "Big Ed" Burns, one of the most notorious characters in the West. Burns was a confidence man and
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 4/2/2024
Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately … Continue reading
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Executed Today - 11/13/2020
Crush Collision! | Welcome to The National Night Stick

“Daredevil” Steve Brodie

Steve Brodie

New York, New York – July 23, 1886. 23-year-old Steve Brodie, Bowery newsboy and “long-distance pedestrian," made a miraculous 120 foot leap off the Brooklyn Bridge into the East River and lived to tell about it. Friends waiting in a rowboat below pulled the dazed but unharmed Brody from the water and rowed him to shore. He was arrested for attempted suicide and taken to New York’s Tombs prison, but his lawyer successfully argued that there was no statute under which could be held. The charge of suicide was ridiculous because Brodie had made the jump to win a bet. 

Steve Brodie was an instant celebrity, becoming the public face of the Bowery, the most notorious neighborhood in America. The stunt made headlines throughout New York and Brody was paid $500 a week to appear at Alexander’s Museum. The problem was, no one outside of Brodie’s entourage actually saw him make the jump. A reporter named Ernest Jerrold (whose byline was Mickey Finn) tracked down and interviewed everyone near the bridge that day and confirmed that no one unconnected with Brodie saw him leave the bridge. It was suspected that a confederate had dropped a weighted dummy from the bridge while Brodie waited in a rowboat below. On the signal he slipped into the water and emerged at the spot where the dummy hit.

Steve-Brodie-Saloon
Steve Brodie's Saloon

The public ignored any skepticism and passionately embraced the story of Steve Brodie’s leap from the Brooklyn Bridge. He opened a saloon in the Bowery that became a popular hangout for sporting men and prize fighters such John L. Sullivan, Jim Corbett, and Jim Jefferies. It was also a major tourist attraction, and when the boxers were not in attendance he would hire actors to portray them for the benefit of out-of-towners.

Theatre Poster, 1894

Brodie continued his bridge jumping career by allegedly leaping from the Poughkeepsie bridge, the Harlem High Bridge, the Cincinnati Suspension Bridge. He also attempted to swim the Niagara rapids in a rubber suit. In 1894 he starred in a hit musical play called On the Bowery in which the hero jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge to save the heroine. He played the part with an extreme Bowery accent, singing the centerpiece song “My Pearl” as “My Poil is a Bowery goil…”

Steve Brodie was a master of self-promotion, constantly making headlines. In 1891, when New York was in a frenzy over the Jack-the-Ripper-like murder of prostitute Carrie Brown, Brodie reported he had found a piece of the dead woman’s intestines in front of the hotel where she was killed. The coroner later determined that it was a cat’s intestine. Everything Brodie did was big news until 1898 when he faked his own death. He was in Cleveland performing with Gus Hill’s vaudeville company in a sketch entitled “One Night in Brodie’s Barroom” and reportedly suffered a heart attack on stage. After Brody triumphantly appeared alive back at his saloon, the papers were reluctant to take any more of his stories at face value.

Steve Brodie died (for the last and final time) of tuberculosis, in San Antonio, Texas, on January 31, 1901. He had left New York several months earlier and moved to Texas to “die in peace.” In St. Louis an admirer asked him about his health and his bridge-jumping experience. The ever-colorful Steve Brodie replied:

“Well, young feller, its hard ter say, even if yer say it fast, but me time’s come. I’ve got the ‘con’ for fair, and I’m as good as a dead corpse. Bridge-jumping? Say. You take an old fool’s advice. If yer wanter get off the car, just reach up and pull the strap, and wait till it stops. See?”

  • Every, Edward. Sins of New York as exposed” by the Police gazette, . New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1930.
  • Sante, Luc. Low life: lures and snares of old New York. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1991.