Interesting Facts

Robert Odlum, the first person to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge

The first person to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge was a professional high diver who "wanted to demonstrate that people did not die simply by falling through the air, thus encouraging people to be willing to jump from a burning building into a net." He proved himself correct by safely falling 135 feet through the air and dying only when he hit the water.

One of the most well-known bridges in the world is the Brooklyn Bridge. Connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn, it spans the East River. The bridge, which was the first steel-wire suspension bridge ever constructed when it was finished in 1883, once held the record for the world’s longest suspension bridge. It was referred to as one of the seven wonders of the industrial world and measured 5,899 feet in length and up to 276.5 feet above the water.

During the bridge’s construction, more than 20 men lost their lives. John Roebling, the bridge’s principal architect, was the first casualty, then more workers. Over 20,000 people were on the bridge a week after the opening ceremony when there was a rumor going around that it might collapse. Twelve people died as the panic spread; they were trampled underfoot by the enormous crowd.

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Aer­ial view, look­ing down at tow­er. Photo credit:

None of this, however, comes close to the number of people who have killed themselves by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. Unofficially, there had been more than 1,300 suicides by 2003. There are rumors that someone perishes in the East River every fifteen days. Engineering challenges prevented the idea of building a suicide barrier from being implemented.

Robert Emmet Odlum was the first person to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. Robert simply wanted to demonstrate that one does not perish by falling through the air. He had no intention of killing himself.

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News­paper head­line an­nounc­ing open­ing. Photo credit:

He did this to exhort others to run for safety if they were trapped inside a burning structure. In addition to this, he also wanted fame and money, which added to his motivation for doing the deed. He unfortunately did not make it through the jump.

Instructor of swimming Robert Odlum. He was born in Ogdensburg, New York, on August 31, 1851, and excelled at swimming from a young age. The Odlum family made extensive travels in search of David, Robert’s older brother who perished in the American Civil War. Robert transitioned through numerous residences and occupations. He relocated to Washington in 1878 and started the Natatorium, a swimming school. The school was a huge success, and soon the kids of many well-known Washingtonians enrolled there.

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Portrait of Robert Emmet Odlum, the first man to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. Photo credit:

The sons of US President James A. Garfield, the daughter of General William Sherman, and the children of President Rutherford Birchard Hayes were among the students of Odlum, who earned the title of Professor. Thanks to his numerous exploits, including swimming and diving into the Potomac River, jumping off the Occoquan Falls, and swimming from Washington to Marshall Hall, Maryland with his friend Paul Boyton, another water showman and daredevil known as the Fearless Frogman, Robert had become a local celebrity in Washington.

Robert made the decision to shut down the school when the Natatorium started to lose money in 1881. He was able to secure employment at Fort Monroe’s Hygeia Hotel in Hampton, Virginia, as a swimming instructor, but his desire for fame and wealth persisted.

In 1882, Robert sneaked to an incomplete section of the Brooklyn Bridge in order to perform a jump from it. The police stopped him before he could pull off the stunt and returned him to Washington. After three years, he finally accomplished his goal.

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Odlum jumps from Brooklyn Bridge. Photo credit:

Robert returned to New York on May 19, 1885, well-prepared. The NYPD was well aware of his plans because, in the weeks before the incident, word of Robert’s intentions had spread throughout the city. The security on the bridge was tightened, but Odlum was able to divert attention. While he was concealing himself in another vehicle, he sent James Haggart, a friend, to the bridge in a taxi. James pretended to be the jumper while acting as a ruse for the police. Robert exited the car he was hiding in while the police officers were occupied with the fake jumper. He jumped off the bridge at 5:35 p.m. in his swimsuit in front of a crowd of onlookers who were watching from a boat.

Robert dropped into the icy water at a speed of about 60 mph. He slammed his feet and hip into the river’s surface at an angle. The strong wind that was blowing at the time contributed to the jump’s disastrous outcome. When the lifeguard, who Odlum himself had working, was doing nothing at all, Paul Boyton jumped into the water and removed Robert’s body. Robert briefly regained consciousness after being brought to the boat, inquired as to whether the jump was successful, and then fell back to unconsciousness. His mouth began to bleed, and at 6:18 pm he passed away from internal bleeding. His friend called an ambulance, but it did not arrive in time to save his life.

Robert had three broken ribs in addition to a ruptured liver, kidneys, and spleen, according to the coroner. Concussion was determined to be the death’s official cause. In Washington, D.C.’s Mount Olivet Cemetery, Robert was laid to rest.

Robert’s mother charged Paul Boyton with murder after his fatal leap, saying that he convinced Robert to take the risk. The Fearless Frogman wrote an open letter to Mrs. Catherine Odlum that was also printed in The New York Times and denied all responsibility.

“The Life and Adventures of Prof. Robert Emmet Odlum, Containing an Account of his Splendid Natatorium at the National Capital” is a biography of her son that Catherine Odlum published in 1885.

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The Brooklyn Bridge, seen from Manhattan, New York City. Photo credit:

Steve Brodie claimed to be the first person to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge and survive the fall one year after Robert’s passing. Since there were no witnesses, it was claimed that Brodie staged the jump by hurling a dummy from the bridge.

The alleged jump took place on July 23, 1886. The first confirmed survivor of the Brooklyn Bridge leap was Larry Donovan, who made the leap into the East River one month later.

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