As we write in Footprints in New York, when the Brooklyn Bridge had opened in 1883 (back when Brooklyn and Manhattan were separate cities):
New York’s Mayor [Franklin] Edson probably scared Brooklynites by invoking a marriage metaphor: “What has thus been joined together shall never be put asunder.” Edson then peered twenty-five years into the future to 1908: “Will these two cities ere then have been consolidated into one great municipality, numbering within its limits more than five millions of people?”
The consolidation of the two cities would happen even quicker, on January 1, 1898, but Edson was very close on the population. In the 1910 census, the population of the new City of New York—which, in addition to Brooklyn and Manhattan, included the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island—was 4.76 million. The fifteen years between the bridge’s opening day and five-borough consolidation were ones of great change for Brooklyn and New York. Some were eager to see the two cities join together. Others had to be reluctantly cajoled into the relationship.
Most of that cajoling happened in Brooklyn. While some prominent Brooklynites--chief among them former Mayor Seth Low--were eager for five-borough unification, it was a hard sell.
Low’s brother Abbot joined the League [of Loyal Citizens] to register his opposition.They wrote a new anthem for Brooklyn, “Up with the Flag,” which began:
Up with the flag! / The flag that long / Has waved o’er Brooklyn’s city fair, / To keep her sons in union strong / To bid them heed the motto there: / “Right makes Might.”
Brooklyn’s motto—in Dutch Eendracht maakt macht—not only rooted the city to its colonial heritage, but “Right makes Might” were the same words used by Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator. Lincoln’s armies had fought for freedom—should Brooklynites give their precious rights up so easily?
Ultimately the matter was put to a vote. Nearly 130,000 ballots were cast, with pro-consolidation squeezing out a victory of only 277 votes.
More from Footprints in New York:
On December 31, 1897, an electric trolley car wended its way across the span of the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time. Employees of the trolley company made last-minute adjustments to the electric cabling and then, a few minutes before midnight, the Columbia and the Amphion—two “sumptuous” trolley cars (in the words of the New York Times)—ferried a delegation of Brooklyn dignitaries to Manhattan to celebrate New Year’s Eve. When the trolleys took them home again at the end of the party, their city was gone. At the stroke of midnight, Brooklyn had ceased to exist as an independent entity. It was now just one of five boroughs.
On the Manhattan side, a celebration thrown by William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal was hampered by rain that turned to snow by midnight; still, an estimated 100,000 people came out to cheer the beginning of the new city.
In Brooklyn, things were much more somber. Mayor Frederick Wurster welcomed Seth Low and other former mayors for an “observance” at Brooklyn City Hall. Though the reception was held for pro-consolidation advocates, it can’t have been a cheery occasion. The official poem written for the festivities ends its first stanza with “You, with me, must die.”
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