Boston-based artist and engraver William J. Peirce created this dynamic composition for an 1857 edition of Ballou’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, which elected to caption the windswept, tumultuous scene (note the capsized mast and the escaping survivors) with the decidedly prosaic, “View of the Fulton Ferry Buildings.” Ah, good old New England reserve.
In fact the image succeeds in offering quite a vivid impression of what was undoubtedly the most familiar view to arrivals at Brooklyn before the Bridge. Grand without extravagance, solid but gay, the perspective seems to embody that most Brooklyn of qualities: worldliness without pretension.
Whitman of course reveled in the aspect of cities astride the estuary, and this was certainly one of his most beloved vistas.
FLOOD-TIDE below me! I see you face to face!
Clouds of the west—sun there half an hour high—I see you
also face to face.
Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how
curious you are to me!
On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, return-
ing home, are more curious to me than you suppose,
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are
more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might
–The opening stanza of Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.
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