Western Correspondent

Last Saturday when I stopped at an historical marker on State Highway 287 just north of Rawlins, Wyoming, I had no idea I’d stumbled onto a current New York controversy.

The Rawlins Paint Mines were in operation from about 1870 to the early 1900s, extracting hematite from an outcropping of Cambrian Flathead Sandstone in the Rawlins Uplift. The hematite — a red iron-oxide mineral – was used to manufacture “Rawlins Red,” a popular paint.According to the historical marker sign, “Rawlins Red” enjoyed the distinction of being selected in 1893, as the paint for the newly constructed Brooklyn Bridge.” The Rawlins town website puts things (including the date) a little differently: “Rawlins Red was the original color chosen when plans for the Brooklyn Bridge were approved in 1869.”

On returning home, I discovered that the issue of the original color of the Brooklyn Bridge is current news in the Big Apple because the city is getting ready to repaint and refurbish the bridge and restore what they claim to be its original color: “Brooklyn Bridge Tan.” According to The Brooklyn Paper, “the Department of Transportation … had originally called this ‘original’ color ‘Queensborough Tan’ on its website,” which of course offended territorial Brooklynites more than the possibility that the color might be wrong.

Despite some evidence to the contrary, including an 1877 Currier and Ives print “The Great East River Suspension Bridge” (above), which shows the cables in a vivid blood red, the Landmarks Preservation Commission claims the bridge was originally two shades of buff. So we may never know for sure. But personally, if I had to pick between the two — drab old tan or vibrant crimson — this Wyoming transplant would vote for Rawlins Red.

Spencer Keralis is a former teaching assistant for WRITING NEW YORK.