[Ads-l] Buy/Sell the Brooklyn Bridge (1900)

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Oct 1 21:04:33 UTC 2020

Barry Popik posted about the Brooklyn Bridge here in 2003.

I have recently done research on the origins of selling the bridge, and 
who may or may not have done it first.

Most sources addressing the topic credit a man named George C. Parker 
with being the first man to sell the bridge, with the date generally 
given as 1901.  His reputation, and the description of his career, all 
seem to be based on reports about his final arrest and sentencing six 
months later in 1928.  Those accounts are not all consistent, although 
many of them use the 1901 date, one says 1900, and two outliers say 1885 
or 1895.  The three pre-1901 reports have problems discussed in my post.

The earliest contemporaneous report of a "sale" of the bridge that I 
could find appeared in 1900.

[Begin Excerpt]
"The police are looking for an Italian bunco man who has been swindling 
his fellow-countrymen for the past month in a novel manner.  He was 
first heard of when Signor Luigi Corelli, an Italian merchant who 
recently landed in New York, went to the office of Lawyer Robert Racey 
in the Ahrens building, at the corner of Elm and Franklin streets, and 
told a remarkable story of how he had been fleeced by the swindler.  He 
told his story through an interpreter, explaining that he had been 
buncoed out of $500."

“How did the bunco man get it?” asked Lawyer Racey.

“He sell-a de Brooklyn Bridge to my friend,” explained the interpreter.

“Sold the Brooklyn Bridge to your friend?”

“Sure,” answered the interpreter.  “Only not all de Bridge. Only New 
York-a side. He tell-a my-a friend Mayor VanWyck own-a de rest.  He 
tell-a my-a friend de Brooklyn Bridge do much-a business.  He met-a my-a 
friend just so soon de ship come in.  He find out his name.  Sure. Pooty 
soon he said ‘Hello, Signor Corelli,’ and he shake-a de hand.  My friend 
think he know-a him in old country, but forget-a de name.  All right. . 
. .

“He say he sell-a my-a friend one piece New York-a side for week an’ 
when he like he buy all Brooklyn side, too, for ten tous’ dol’.”

“Very cheap for the Brooklyn side of the Bridge,” remarked Lawyer Racey. 
  I’d give that much myself for it.”
[End Excerpt]

The New York Sun, May 27, 1900, section 3, page 1.

That story, or versions of that story, was reprinted widely, reaching as 
far as Hawaii within just a few weeks.

Several reports in local New York and Brooklyn newspapers over the next 
eight years identify a man named Edward Basso as the likely culprit.

Generic descriptions of selling the bridge, not associated with a 
specific event start to appear in about 1909.  The New York police 
commissioner is said to have released a list of "don'ts" for tourists in 
1909, which included the admonition, "Don't buy the Brooklyn Bridge from 
a stranger." Fort Worth Star-Telegram, October 17, 1909, Comics Section.

References to selling the bridge and jokes about selling the bridge 
appear with increasing frequency after about 1913.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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