Before the marching bands played, before the Bronx and Manhattan borough presidents marched from each side of the High Bridge, before the national anthem and ceremonial FDNY fire boat display, Bebe Wallace stood near the center of the city's oldest bridge in happy disbelief.
"I've been waiting for this day for so long," said the 30-plus year resident of the High Bridge neighborhood of the Bronx. Wallace recalled scaling the High Bridge's fence and sneaking across the 1,450-foot-long span to Washington Heights as a kid in the 90s, a maneuver well known to many who would illegally scale the bridge instead of walking up to the Washington Bridge that connects 181 Street in Manhattan to University Avenue in the Bronx.
A neighborhood enthusiast, Wallace wore a t-shirt he designed that read "High Bridge" on the front, and listed all the major city bridges on the back.
"The Brooklyn bridge gets all the props," Wallace said. "I've been wearing this shirt since 2006."
High Bridge, which was completed in 1848, officially re-opened to the public on Tuesday for the first time since the 1970s.
The span is 35 years older than the Brooklyn Bridge, and was built both visually and functionally as a roman aqueduct to transport water from Westchester County to New York City as the city's population rapidly grew.
After years of disrepair, the foot bridge over the Harlem River, which has never seen a car cross, closed to pedestrians in the 1970s.
Elected and city officials at Tuesday's opening spoke about the emotional importance of connecting the two boroughs, and billed the bridge as uptown's High Line.
"This is about bringing families together," said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., adding that many families in Washington Heights in the West Bronx will be able to connect easier by walking across the historic bridge.