Golden Gate Bridge Suicides
Golden Gate Bridge Suicide History

                          Matthew
                                Matthew
             
       1987 - 2007


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 Reno Evening Gazette

 

 BRIDGE SUICIDE   CURB IS SOUGHT

 SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 4 1937 – ( AP) –

 Golden Gate bridge authorities, spurred by police reports of the second known suicidal jump from the 220-foot high span, considered possible means today of preventing further deaths on the bridge.

     The body of Louis Levin, San Francisco, was recovered Saturday from the water inside a coffer dam around a bridge foundation.  A coroner’s autopsy report disclosed death caused by multiple internal injuries resulting from the impact when his body hit the water.  There was no water in his lungs.

     Police said Levin is the second victim of the bridge. Harold Wobber leaped to his death last August.  Several weeks ago the fur coat of a woman was found on the bridge, leading to the belief another suicide had occurred, but no body ever was found.

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Over 70 years ago the issue of suicide prevention on the Golden Gate Bridge began, spurred by  2 confirmed deaths and a possible missing person in the first few months the bridge was opened.  In reviewing the minutes of the Board of Directors for the first several years, there was no mention or resolution to take any action to prevent further suicides. 

 

Harold Wobber was the first confirmed suicide. He was the first victim with a mental disorder; back then it was called "Shell-shocked" but it is the equivilant of PTSD - Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Harold was also the first victim whose body was not recovered.

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In his original design for the Golden Gate Bridge, engineer Joseph Strauss included a

structure to deter suicide. He specified a safety railing of five feet six inches, capped in

a manner difficult for any climber to grasp. Strauss advertised the bridge through the

press as practically suicide-proof. Architect Irving Morrow changed that design, and

specified a lower railing.

 

In early 1939, with the Bridge open only18 months, the suicide count reached 11 and

the California Highway Patrol began to express its concern publicly. The Bridge

District's first "study" of the problem was in 1948. Engineers recommended a

solution in 1953.

 

In 1973, media coverage exploded over the 500th suicide from the Bridge.

The decade heralded an in-depth analysis of seventeen suicide barrier designs

by the firm Anshen + Allen. Unfortunately, this extensive work did not rouse

the Bridge District to take any remedial action.

 

As the suicide total approached 1,000, Bridge officials finally took action—

they stopped counting. Under public pressure, the District also installed

telephones with links to crisis counseling centers and instituted special

training for bridge staff and emergency service personnel. A new design

for the railing was examined and a prototype was installed in the Bridge parking lot.

 

District officials never measured the effectiveness of their actions in the ‘90s.

Yet we know the deaths continue because the Marin Coroner has made the

information public. In 2005 24 deaths were reported, plus an additional five

suspected jumps where no body was recovered. The coroner reported 34 bodies

recovered in Marin, San Francisco and Contra Costa and 4 additional suspected

jumps in 2006. There were at least 35 suicide jumps in 2007, 34 in 2008,

31 in 2009 and 34 in 2010—well over 1,400 in total.

 

In the fall of 2008, the Bridge District voted to accept a stainless steel net as

its preferred option to stop the suicides. Since then all the needed environmental

studies and historic reviews have been completed. Local transportation authorities

have provided funds for the final engineering drawings for the safety net. Funding

for construction of the net has yet to be identified, however a strategy is in place.

Congressional advocated s for the safety net have proposed an amendment to the

National transportation Act that will allow funds for suicide prevention structures

on problem bridges nationwide. While this legislation is pending, advocates have

been gathering support and reaching out to other communities with problem bridges.

 

The Golden Gate Bridge is a national landmark. Its unique form is featured in

everything from tourist promotions to Marine Corps recruiting drives. We know

virtually every landmark structure in the world has had a suicide problem. These i

nclude the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, St Peter’s Basilica and the

Sidney Harbor Bridge. While these all have effective suicide prevention structures,

the Golden Gate Bridge stands alone, and the deaths continue—at about 30 per year.

 
 
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One of the best documentaries about the history of the bridge and its suicides has been compiled by Jenni Olson, a filmmaker who created "The Joy of Life". You can read the detailed history at her website,  and learn about her documentary film, The Joy of Life.

PBS American Experience created a documentary about the building of the Golden Gate Bridge. Many historical facts are available at this website, including timelines, opposition to the building of the bridge, an incredible photograph of the Golden Gate before a bridge was built and more.
 
 
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