Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

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Regular readers may remember my longtime interest in Golden Gate Bridge suicides, so it’s no surprise that I rented and watched The Bridge. I found it a pretty stunning project—in addition to direct, hidden-camera footage of suicides leaping off the bridge, there are interviews with family members and even one survivor. It’s an experience; there’s really no other movie like it.

The best article on the subject, I think, is still The New Yorker’s:

Almost everyone in the Bay Area knows someone who has jumped, and it is perhaps not surprising that the most common fear among San Franciscans is gephyrophobia, the fear of crossing bridges. Yet the locals take a peculiar pride in the bridge’s notoriety. “What makes the bridge so popular,” Gladys Hansen, the city’s unofficial historian, says, citing the ten million tourists who visit the bridge each year, “is that it’s a monument, a monument to death.” In 1993, a man named Steve Page threw his three-year-old daughter, Kellie, over the side of the bridge and followed her down; even after this widely publicized atrocity, an Examiner poll that year found that fifty-four per cent of the respondents opposed building a suicide barrier.

The idea of building a barrier was first proposed in the nineteen-fifties, and it has provoked controversy ever since. “The battle over a barrier is actually a battle of ideas,” Eve Meyer, the executive director of San Francisco Suicide Prevention, told me. “And some of the ideas are very old, ideas about whether suicidal people are people to fear and hate.” In centuries past, suicides were buried at night at a crossroads, under piles of stones, or had stakes driven through their hearts to prevent their unquiet spirits from troubling the rest of us. In the United States today, someone takes his own life every eighteen minutes, and suicide is much more common than homicide. Still, the issue is rarely examined. In the Bay Area, the topic is virtually taboo. One Golden Gate official told me repeatedly, “I hate that you’re writing about this.”

In 1976, an engineer named Roger Grimes began agitating for a barrier on the Golden Gate. He walked up and down the bridge wearing a sandwich board that said “Please Care. Support a Suicide Barrier.” He gave up a few years ago, stunned that in an area as famously liberal as San Francisco, where you can always find a constituency for the view that pets should be citizens or that poison oak has a right to exist, there was so little empathy for the depressed. “People were very hostile,” Grimes told me. “They would throw soda cans at me, or yell, ‘Jump!’ ”

Written by gerrycanavan

June 17, 2007 at 9:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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