Brooklynites Commute Over Frozen East River, Boys Make a Profit (1888)

Commuters crossing the frozen East River in the 19th century. Illustration via Harpers Weekly


    The snowpocalypse of 1888 brought a brutal blizzard to New York City and temperatures cold enough to freeze the East River. In true New York fashion, some enterprising young men found a way to help Brooklynites with their commute while making a pretty penny.

    Both The New York Times and The Brooklyn Eagle recorded the tale of the frozen East River in March of 1888. With dramatic language, the papers regaled readers with the story of impatient Brooklynites waiting for ferries that couldn’t cross. When word spread the river was frozen solid, people began to contemplate walking across.

    blizzard 1888 frozen east river

    Article via The New York Times

    But how to get down from the piers onto the ice safely? According to the Times, “a boy with a ladder, and a shrewd eye to business” lowered his ladder to the ice and began charging each soul brave enough to climb down a two-cent fee for access. Interestingly, the paper reported a young man on the Manhattan side followed suit — but the fee to enter Manhattan was higher: He charged five cents.

    blizzard 1888 frozen east river

    A ladder on the Manhattan side. Illustration via Ephemeral New York (original source unknown)

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