G is for Golden Gate Bridge: A Lethal Monument


“The Golden Gate Bridge’s daily striptease from enveloping stoles of mist to full frontal glory is still the most provocative show in town.”

~ Mary Moore Mason

There are all sorts of fog in San Francisco: thick like Greek yoghurt, thin like Thai silk and sometimes translucent like some see-through curtain. Sometimes it hovers, suspended in the sky like a dense white bar. It can be depressing, but usually it’s atmospheric, romantic and always whimsical. Fog in the city also means you wish you had brought that sweater. If we didn’t have this much fog in the city, the Golden Gate might in fact have been a lot less interesting. The fog and the bridge work together to offer photographers unique shots, and there may be moments in time that it seems as if the bridge is being carried off by the fog.

In the 1920s, when the first plans for the bridge were being discussed, there was much opposition: from a national defense point of view, it seemed a bad idea to connect Marin County with San Francisco, but one also wondered whether it could be done. In 1937, the bridge was finished, and at that moment in time, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, built with 100,000 tons of steel and 128748 kilometers of cables. The bridge is as tall as a building with 42 floors, and since 1937, tens of millions of cars have crossed it.

This “Symphony in Steel” and “Aoelian Harp” may be one of the most beautiful bridges in the world and truly has become the icon of San Francisco, but the bridge has a sinister subtext: three months after the bridge was finished, the first person jumped off of it.

Since then, the Golden Gate Bridge has become the most famous suicide monument in the world: more than a thousand people have jumped off the bridge and the suicide success rate for the bridge is high (98%): hitting the water surface at 75 miles/hour has the same effect as falling onto a concrete floor. If you do survive it, you will die of exposure or you will be swept away by the strong currents in the bay.

The exact number of suicides we don’t know. Not everyone gets noticed when jumping. The local police does find abandoned and unclaimed (rental) vehicles in the parking lot near the Golden Gate. Record years were 1995 (45) and 2013 (46). The average annual number lies around 30. For years, a suicide barrier has been discussed, with mixed success. Policemen, dressed up as civilians, do patrol the bridge but that won’t suffice either.

Maybe one could call the bridge San Francisco’s dirty little secret, because people do not only travel to San Francisco to honeymoon, they also make the journey to die here. Tony Bennett sang the famous song about leaving his heart in San Fran, but some of us leave their lives here, an interesting phenomenon if one considers that the bridge could be seen as the last frontier out West, which for some, becomes the last personal frontier as well.

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