You remember Emily Warren Roebling from last week, don’t you? The woman who helped build the Brooklyn Bridge? Turns out her husband Washington Roebling was quite the catch. He may look like your average fair-to-middling college student here but he managed to master nearly one hundred different courses, including:
Whew. Now this may not have been the thing that sparked Emily’s interest. Did I mention he was a war hero as well? His father John Roebling, a stern and steely-eyed famous engineer, complained about having Washington still under his roof. Washington enlisted for New Jersey the next morning.
Washington confessed to his sister that he was totally smitten with Emily the first time he spotted her at an officers’ ball. He confessed to Emily Warren that at college a classmate had succumbed to the terrible strain of the engineering course load, confessed his “different” kind of love for Washington and when Washington explained that the feelings were not mutual the classmate killed himself.
After the war he rejoined his father in business and took over when his father died of tetanus after losing his toes in a bridge building accident (I did not know your brain is still fully functioning even as you writhe around in severe pain). Obviously, the Brooklyn Bridge was a smashing success.
But here’s why engineers are sexy: They complete things. They stay around. They fix things. They’re always plotting something (this adds to the mystery). As in all professions talents can be used for good or evil. Washington was good. A good son, a good husband, a good boss (he was generally liked), a good father and a good–no–a great engineer. Success is sexy.
Here’s how reading and life inform writing: First I wrote The House on Tenafly Road and needed a pair of bratty boy twins. Buck Crenshaw was one of them. I visited West Point and Buck suddenly became a cadet. I liked the military side of it and ignored the engineering side for a long time. I met my second husband who’s ex-military and an engineer . . . and randomly started reading about great engineering feats of the 19th century. My husband’s a keeper. Buck Crenshaw, also a keeper and good for you Emily Warren! Washington was damned sexy.
* Stories about Washington come from David McCullough’s book The Great Bridge