Today, the Seated Liberty Silver Quarter Coin remembers when the East River froze solidly enough that people were able to walk across between Brooklyn and New York.
From a History of the City of Brooklyn by Henry Reed Stiles, published in 1869:
1867. January 23d.
The East river between Brooklyn and New York was bridged over by ice!
The Eagle of that date says:
During last night (22d) the ice which yesterday moved up the river, causing so much delay, came down with the turning of the tide, and the same difficulties in ferry navigation were experienced. Boats, however, did not attempt to cross, except at long intervals.
The cold of the night exceeding that of the day, made it more difficult, and darkness still further increased the dangers of the undertaking.
Finding it impossible to make the New York slip at Fulton ferry, the pilots were glad to put in at the Catharine slip on the New York side, on the principle of “any port in a storm.”
The milkmen, market farmers and newspaper men were not particular, so that they got across somewhere near on time.
Meantime the boat, struggling out of Fulton ferry, in the New York slip, found itself imprisoned, and the chilly dawn brought the discovery that she was frozen in as effectually as was ever Dr. Kane in the Arctic ocean — differing only in degree.
This was too bad, and things did not improve at that point until fully ten o’clock. As the light became strong, an experienced Fulton market dealer made a bet that he could cross on the ice, and won easily.
He left Beekman street, New York, closely followed by two others to rescue him in case of accident. The trio proceeded a little downstream, and leaving Fulton ferry to the eastward, struck the Brooklyn shore at DeForrest’s stores, a couple of blocks below the city flour mills.
Of course the example was contagious, and everyone who could, dared, or wished, started and made the trip across to New York on foot and for nothing.
As long as the ice remained bridged and fastened, an open sea was left from a little below Fulton ferry, Brooklyn side, to Green-Point, thus making the ferries between these points as available as in a summer’s day.
The great majority of those who must go to New York were thus ferried over without any detention.
A large number of those who always prefer to walk when they can, those who like to perform a novel feat and those who were curious to see how it felt to be in the middle of the river, rushed down to DeForrest’s stores, through an arched way and upon the ice.
In this manner probably not less than five thousand persons crossed.
A policeman lifted them on shore at the foot of Beekman street, and away they went.
One person with more lungs and vanity than the majority, ran across six times, that he might brag over his performance hereafter.
All this time a couple of tugs laid off in the clear water, just above the line of the ice bridge, or from Fulton to Peck slip ferry; the tide was running up stream rapidly, and the sun began to warm up the atmosphere considerably.
The boat men expected, perhaps hoped, that some adventurous individual would be set afloat upon cakes of ice, in order that they might rescue them for a consideration.
The people were becoming emboldened each moment, while the ice support was growing less trustworthy.
At last two ladies were seen to venture in company with one gentleman. They reached the other shore in safety, were handed up, and can now feel reasonably vain of being the only two ladies who have walked over the river in eleven years.
Two compositors in the Eagle office cut their sticks for the river and took a double quick to the other side, where, after disbursing thirty cents in honor of their exploit, they took a triumphal walk in return, satisfied that they had done “a big thing on ice.”
Hundreds on both sides of the river crossed just for the fun of the thing.
At a few moments past ten o’clock the force of the current had so weakened the ice in the centre of the river, that it began to show signs of giving way.
Recently jammed in together, and each cake depending for the permanency of its position upon all others, a breaking up becomes a serious thing to those who are upon the treacherous surface.
All at once the ice began to move, a long cake broke off lengthwise, in the track along which persons were traveling.
This caused a scattering, all persons being in a hurry to reach either shore.
The long line, broken in the middle, bent back upon itself and made the ice still more uncertain by the force of their falling feet.
Three persons came to the Brooklyn shore, pretty well wet and frightened; they had gone in, one of them to the waist.
A boy scrambling on shore, near DeForrest’s dock, was thrown back by a rising cake of ice and nearly submerged.
All four escaped, however, and they are among the persons who will not hurriedly repeat their hazardous experiment.
Very soon the whole ice which had formed this bridge reaching from South to Fulton ferry, began to move with great force up the river.
The damage to shipping has not thus far been very considerable; the most mentionable, being that caused by a brig lying by the City Flour Mills, just west of Fulton ferry.
This vessel was driven from its fastenings by the ice, its bowsprit forced into an elevator and broken off, nearly upsetting it, and in the rebound striking the stern of one of the Knickerbocker Ice Company’s barges, staving it in.
From ten o’clock until half-past eleven this morning, the whole ice moved up stream, impeding the travel by ferry boats as before, but still no great delay resulted.
At noon time, and just previous to this, while the ice was still, a number of chaps full of risk, struck out from New York for Brooklyn, They got across, and were followed by a large crowd.
The ice began then to move down stream, and carried with it about thirty persons upon one cake, down towards Governor’s island. They were all rescued by tugs, and charged generously for the service rendered.
This is the third time of late years that the East river has been similarly bridged.
It never happens except when a thaw occurring causes the North river to send down fields of heavy ice; followed by a south-west wind, which blows these heavy, cakes into the East river, where they oscillate from Governor’s to Blackwell’s island and block up navigation.
A cold spell succeeding this makes the ice sufficiently firm to bear up the weight of those who choose to cross.
The Seated Liberty Silver Quarter Coin shows with an image of a ferry service between Brooklyn and New York, circa 1865.