Jackson Street Bridge "I Guess I'm Finished"

by Charles McGrath

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My maternal grandfather Charles Becker was the son of a German immigrant. Most of us are the descendant of immigrants so that by itself is not unusual. But Charles's father Louis came for a reason that was somewhat unique. He came to fight for the North in the Civil War. At that time a man could evade the draft by either donating $100.00 or getting someone to serve in his place. Louis Becker received free passage to this country to serve in place of a wealthy coward.

Charles Becker may have been one of the twelve young people who climbed the stairs of the new "Main" building in 1887 and began to fulfill the dream of Charles Pratt as the first students at Pratt Institute. He didn't like Pratt and would cut class to go down to the waterfront to talk to the seamen. When his father found out he almost did to him what my grandfather did to the English landlord. He never spoke to his father after that and went on to become an ironworker. The problem with being an ironworker is that it is seasonal. You don't work in the winter.

In 1910 he had an opportunity to be a bridge tender on the Jackson Street Bridge. He jumped at the chance and took the job. He almost got killed again but this time by my grandmother. While the job was steady, it only paid $10.00 per week. That wasn't much money I think he had five children at that time. I guessed they managed somehow because I'm here.

In the early 1900's the Jackson Street was very busy with traffic both over and under it. It was one of the most important bridges into Newark.

Charles would also use his former trade as an ironworker. At times he would hang from a boson's chair to do maintenance and repair work to the bridge.

Charles loved to listen to the Lone Ranger on the radio. One evening in 1939 he was working on the bridge with his partner Bonnie Looby. They were both listening to the Lone Ranger when Charles had problems breathing. Bonnie took him out of the tower to get fresh air. With that Charles said " I guess I'm finished " and collapsed.

That was a very profound way to say good bye to life on the Jackson Street Bridge .

I guess I'm finished

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