Sunday, May 27, 2007

Happy Birthday, Beautiful Lady


Today is the 70th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was opened on May 27th, 1937, and was the world's longest suspension bridge until the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge opened in New York City in 1964.

The Golden Gate Strait joins San Francisco Bay with the Pacific Ocean. The bridge connects San Francisco to Marin County, and as both US Highway 101 and California State Highway 1, is the only northerly route out of the city.

The bridge was the idea of Joseph Strauss, an engineer who had designed hundreds of drawbridges. He spent over a decade gathering support for the project. Architect Irving Morrow collaborated on the design, adding Art Deco touches and choosing the color, Industrial Orange, while engineer Charles Alton Ellis and bridge designer Leon Moisseiff were responsible for the complicated mathematics involved.

The cost was over $27 million.

I love the concept of a bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge is a notorious site for suicides. The official jumper count ended in 1995 when the number approached 1,000, and is considerably higher now. It is estimated that a person leaps off the bridge every 15 days.

The 220-foot fall from the bridge takes four seconds and jumpers hit the water at 75 miles per hour. Only 26 people are known to have survived the jump. Those who did struck the water feet first and suffered multiple internal injuries and broken bones.

One young woman may be the only person to have jumped from the bridge twice. She survived her first jump in early 1988, but died in her second attempt later that year.

Methods have been discussed to reduce the number of suicides. The bridge has been closed to pedestrians at night, although cyclists are still permitted. Attempts to introduce a suicide barrier have been thwarted by engineering difficulties, high costs, and public opposition on aesthetic grounds. It has also been argued that making the bridge a more difficult place to end ones life would only move suicides elsewhere.

The Bureau of Inverse Technology has deployed a number of Suicide Boxes containing motion-detecting cameras to monitor suicides and correlate, in real-time, the number of jumpers with the Dow Jones Industrial Index to create their novel Despondency Index.

I think that becoming a statistic should be enough of a deterrent. Plus, that is some of the coldest water anywhere.

It's stunning to consider a life so utterly miserable that death would be preferable. Such intense aloneness is hard to imagine. A lot of people would have failed to give someone a sense of worth to bring him or her to that point, as death by bridge is a very large crack to fall through.

There will not be a celebration or even cake on this special anniversary. No fireworks. It isn't easy to keep a low profile when you are famous and beautiful, but the stately landmark's handlers are contemplating yet another fare increase over the $5 it now costs to traverse the bridge and are hoping that no one will notice.

Let's raise a glass to a grand old girl, gateway to a fairyland beautiful city.

57 comments:

evalinn said...

I like bridges, all since I did my thesis about a bridge in Honduras. It´s cool that they connect stuff.

Not so cool that they encourage people to jump (or rather gives the opportunity, the encouragement probably comes from elsewhere).

We have a favorit-jump-bridge in Stock City too, called Västerbron. One stupid guy actually died last year from thinking he was gonna jump in for a swim.

meno said...

One of my favorite memories ever of San Francisco is walking across the Golden Gate Bridge on a sunny blustery day. I always recommend that activity to anyone going to visit there.

We have a local jumping bridge too, the Aurora Bridge. It's not the bridge, it's the height.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Evalinn,

I love bridges, too. I have a whole pantheon of favorite bridges, including the Brooklyn Bridge, the Pont Neuf, the Pontevecchio, the covered bridges of New England, and swinging rope footbridges over jungle.

Apparently, you have your "hey y'all, watch this" contingent in Sweden, too.

Meno,

We walk or ride our bikes across it as often as possible. The views from there are other-worldly.

Sometimes I worry about being taken over by a spirit that causes me to jump, the same one that kindly spared me when I was at the top of the Empire State Building once or twice.

Joan said...

She is indeed a most awesome structure and her beauty never fails to amaze me each time we cross over her. I've been over both and can honestly say that, while the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge may be longer, the Golden Gate is certainly more elegant and radiant.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Joan,

I agree, and I was living in NY when the Verrazano was built. It never impressed me overly, but every day, I see the GG Bridge from new angles as I go about my day, and it is truly glorious from every one of them.

flutter said...

Oh she is so beautiful. I love love love love San Francisco. It is just so gorgeous and the Golden Gate is just the perfect punctuation into that city

Sienna said...

Happy Birthday too!

I think it looks a very beautiful Bridge, I'll bet her spirit creaks and groans when people take their lives (from her) by jumping...that is the sad part.

I'm not sure what happens at Sydney Harbor Bridge, but I know West Gate in Melbourne has people jump, and also when it was being constructed there was a collapse and people lost their lives..

San Francisco sure looks the most beautiful and interesting city...you have a fine home their Hearts!

Pam

la cubana gringa said...

It's a shame she's covered in a blanket of fog on her anniversary, isn't it?

Cursed Tea said...

When we visited our good friends in SF 5 years ago I remember being fascinated with the pelicans flying along side the car (there were quite a few of us Brits and pelicans were quite the novelty!)

Best Wishes
Kirsty

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Flutter,

I couldn't agree more. It still takes my breath away, both the bridge and the city.

(The Bay Bridge is also beautiful but gets less attention unless an earthquake or exploding gas truck damages it.)

Pam,

If the bridge has a spirit, it must be very sad at such times.

Several men died horribly while it was being constructed, too. They fell into the cement forms of the towers and couldn't be rescued, which must also have grieved any resident spirit.

La Cubana,

I often think of tourists re-checking their guidebooks and saying "It's supposed to be over there, isn't it?" scratching their heads while the bridge hides in the fog.

Does it seem to you that this is bloody cold for almost June?

Kirsty,

"A wonderful bird is the pelican,
Its bill can hold more than its bellycan."

Aren't they wonderful? They always fly in single file formation, looking for food (or perhaps, British tourists.)

5:21 PM

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

As a hippie wannabe, San Francisco is like the mothership! There are only a handful of places in the USA which I would really like to visit and San Francisco is top of the list. Sadly, I've only seen the bridge from the air and only the inside of your airport.

Molly said...

There's an Irish song whose refrain is "Sittin' on the bridge below the town." A favourite courting spot in the old days. THE place to see and be seen in an Irish village, of an evening in springtime.....probably a lot humbler and less awe-inspiring than the GG but nice just the same. Been across your bridge a few times, and on each occasion it was breathtaking!

Josie said...

Hearts, we have a sister bridge in Vancouver called Lions Gate Bridge. It was started in March 1937 and opened in November 1938. It isn't nearly as long as the Golden Gate Bridge, but it looks quite similar.

I have never been to San Francisco and I have always wanted to go. I have been to LA and Santa Barbara, but never SF. It looks like such a beautiful, almost European city, compared to LA. You're very fortunate to live there.

Josie

Jocelyn said...

You are so masterful with rousing rhetoric! Really. You just get my heart thrumming for stuff...which is why I maintain you really need to run for office (one of the good guys!).

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Squirrel,

I was a hippie sympathizer, too. I didn't do the drugs or the free love, but I was enchanted with the back-to-the-land movement and my hair was long enough to sit on.

Molly,

Bridges are lovely places to be. They are by definition wonderful because they join together two halves. No wonder they were such a popular place for courting.

Josie,

I have always wanted to see Vancouver. I know it's a breathtaking place, and it's definitely on our list of places to visit. Soon, I hope.

I used to think that SF was a bit like a European city, too, but since I've lived here, I never think of it anymore.

Jocelyn,

You always say the nicest things. Thank you.

I would be a terrible politician, though, because I usually have at least one foot in my mouth.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Excellent post. Loved the facts about the bridge, was sorry to know the facts about the suicides. There's a bridge here in Colorado that's notorious for jumpers as well... The Royal Gorge Bridge. Google that one, and take a look; it's incredible, but it's no Golden Gate.
There's not another bridge in the world as beautiful, breathtaking or well known as the one we celebrate today.

Thanks very much for this post!

Scarlett

thethinker said...

I love bridges, just not the idea of suicide. One person every fifteen days? That's a scary thought.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Scarlett,

The Royal Gorge Bridge is like a piece of string over the Grand Canyon. Scary. But amazingly beautiful, like nearly everything in Colorado.

I cannot imagine jumping off any of them.

Thinker,

I love bridges, too. Suicide, not so much. It's so sad when people fail to realize that things change, and usually get better.

sognatrice said...

Lovely tribute! I haven't seen her in person yet, but I've always wanted to...someday I'll get there :)

urban-urchin said...

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge back in November (on her birthday) so horrible. I love the Golden Gate Bridge. It's so beautiful, the whole area- the Presido the Marin Headlands, so gorgeous and so sad to think that this is where so many chose to end their lives.

QT said...

What a great post - the Golden Gate is THE bridge as far as I'm concerned, that all other bridges are measured by.

I did not know that about the suicides. But it makes sense given the hieght and public access. Meno is right, in Seattle it is the Aurora bridge, which is nothing special to look at. The Tacoma-Narrows was the one I crossed the most when I lived in the PNW. I don't know if you ever saw the footage of it in a storm - her nickname is "Galloping Gertie" now.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Sognatrice,

Oh, you must come here. And I have always wanted to see the Fata Morgana .

I am sure that neither disappoints.

Urchin,

What happened at the V-N Bridge in November? I don't remember hearing anything.

I think that if I were suicidal, I would be more inclined to do it in an ugly place. Or maybe not. Maybe they choose this one so that the last thing they see is splendor.

Qt,

Galloping Gertie... No, I haven't had the pleasure. Did a storm move it?

I'd love to see Washington and Vancouver. It looks like a gorgeous area, and beautiful surroundings are important to me.

Stewart Sternberg said...

It's interesting that so much time is being spent on averting suicides. I prefer to think of it as natural selection.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Stewart,

Or more accurately, UNnatural selection since you would think that offing oneself would go against every instinct that governs our existence.

Hel said...

Your post is beautiful but also made me feel a bit sad.

The bit about the loneliness - but maybe they found a bridge into a world where they were happy that someone was waiting for them.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Hel,

What a beautiful thought! I think that against all logic, most of us hope to see our loved ones again after we die.

thailandchani said...

Perhaps it is the near certainty that prompts people to jump from the bridge.

We don't have an equivalent here.

I always thought SF was particularly beautiful ~ not just because of the geography but the people there as well. So unlike the folks in Los Angeles. I visited many times during the hippie era and it was certainly an experience. :)


Peace,

~Chani

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Chani,

I wanted so much to be here then, but those who were in self-imposed control of my body had other plans for me.

There is an energy peculiar to this city that I haven't experienced elsewhere.

"Near-certainty" would not be enough for me if I had such intentions. I would not want to leave anything to chance.

Jay said...

I hope that when I turn 70 people don't sit around discussing how many people killed themselves because of me :)

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Jay,

If you don't have lovers leaping off bridges right and left, you're not half trying.

I know you can do it.

furiousBall said...

I have yet to visit your beautiful city, but plan to one day soon. Like yourself I love bridges too, the Annapolis Bay Bridge is a huge bridge over the Chesapeake Bay. We grew up sailing underneath it and that's a whole different perspective to see one of these beautiful things.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Furious,

I pulled a loaded horse trailer across the Chesapeake Bay Tunnel Bridge once with a Plymouth Duster. Every time a semi passed me, my car and trailer were moved over a few feet - whoooosh - and I was practically catatonic.

I suspect the scenery is very beautiful there, but I was afraid to take my eyes off the road for even a second.

The CEO said...

The view from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is spectacular, if you aren't the driver.

You really are a wonderful writer, I enjoy your posts enormously.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

CEO,

I've always been sorry I missed the views from there. My young daughter, despite my intimations of impending doom, managed to take note of our surroundings and declared them quite beautiful.

Thank you for your kind words. I'm delighted to have found your blog, too.

Ian Lidster said...

My glass is raised. I love the Golden Gate, it's such a wonderful punctuation point for your gorgeous city. Have you ever seen the Lion's Gate in Vancouver. It's a smaller facsimile, but beautiful in its own right.
Nice blog.
Ian

Voyager said...

I cycled across the GGB about ten years ago, but I do not recall paying any toll. Maybe it's only for cars?
V.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Ian,

I have never been to Vancouver, although I've always wanted to. I get excited when somebody I know visits there, and my turn will come, too.

Voyager,

The toll is only for cars, and it only applies coming into the city. There is none leaving.

Thank you for coming by!

My Reflecting Pool said...

I'll raise my glass to her. Cheers. I've only driven over her once. Maybe twice, for some reason I don't remember how I entered SF, just the exit.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Reflective,

You'll have to come back soon so you can remember more.

Liz said...

This weekend, one of my best friends visited SF for the first time and walked across the bridge. She's now plotting her move from NYC.

The suicide numbers are awfully sad. I think it's probably less about the method and more about the person wanting to end the anguish their tortured soul is going through. If it wasn't the bridge, eventually there'd be some other way chosen. I can't make sense of such a senseless act. I can't see how those that do it are blind to the fact that everything changes and most things will and do get better.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Liz,

Exactly. They do change, and when they do, it is hard to imagine the pain that we were in before.

The sky will be blue again, with cumulus clouds, and I don't want to miss it.

I hope your friend is able to make the move easily, and that she will enjoy life in San Francisco.

nmj said...

hey san fran, i love the GG bridge & have many memories of crossing it, though I do still have a nightmare that i am walking across and the waves are huge and choppy, & lapping over the bridge - makes my feet tingle just thinking of it.

Christina_the_wench said...

I am heading to Mackinaw Bridge in July, another amazing bridge. I hope noone gets the urge to jump while I am there. That could dampen the vacation a bit.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Nmj,

That's scary. In MY worst fantasy, the bridge breaks apart. It makes my brain tingle.

Christina,

Good luck with that. I hope you have a jump-free vacation.

goodthomas said...

Bridges terrify me, just as all beautiful things do, I guess.

The beauty of something man-made connecting two land masses is pretty incredible, amazing. Something strong and majestic and yet delicate almost.

"It isn't easy to keep a low profile when you are famous and beautiful." Hmmmmm.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Thomas,

Why do beautiful things terrify you?

CS said...

The GG bridge is a stunning sight. I love virtually any bridge - from big suspension bridges to rickety wooden bridges over creeks. We have a jumpers bridge in Knoxville, too, though not as impressive. If someone wants to die, they'll find a way.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Cs,

I love bridges, too. They are almost impossibly magical.

You must be referring to the Henley Bridge in Knoxville.

Yes, people will find a way, which is one of the arguments against building some kind of "protection" on the GG Bridge.

Lee said...

Oh I don't know, maybe I'm insensitive, but I kind of feel it's nice the bridge offers a clean escape from misery and pain and a near perfect chance of dying with dignity.

Is that wrong?

I love that bridge.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Lee,


When all is said and done, only a person, himself, can place a value on his or her life.

I'm not sure what constitutes dignity in death. It wouldn't be my own choice to meet it in that way, but then I intend to go kicking and screaming all the way. And arguing.

Lee said...

I hope to go kicking and screaming too, but if I were to know my fate was daipers and burden to those who loved me, I would take this route immediately. And I dearly wish that those so full of anger that they feel the need to take innocents with them would reconsider and just take their own. To me, that would be dignity in death.

Cece said...

Can you believe I've lived in CA all my life & have NEVER been to SF! I must make it there & cross the bridge. Must.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Lee,

Good point. Taking others on that grim journey is as messed up as anything could be.

I don't consider diapers an option either.

Cece,

Yes, you surely must. And I must go to Catalina, which I never managed to do while living in San Diego.

Open Grove Claudia said...

I love that bridge!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Claudia,

It's one of the two or three most beautiful that I know of, anywhere.

pkh said...

Dr. Richard Seiden, a professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Public Health and the leading researcher on suicide at the bridge, has written that studies reveal “a commonly held attitude that romanticizes suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge in such terms as aesthetically pleasing and beautiful, while regarding a Bay Bridge suicide as tacky.”"

It is too bad that Dr. Seiden spent so much time in the class room and so little time in the practical realities of life.

People jump from the Golden Gate not because of romance - but because of desperation. They choose the Golden Gate Bridge not because it is less tacky but because it has easy access and pedestrian walkways.

No other Bridge in the Bay Area has pedestrian walkways. No access no deaths.

The Directorate of the Golden Gate has managed to keep the public in the dark for over 70 years ! Only now because of the internet can the story get out -

Not only that but the GG Bridge is bankrupt - the real reason that nothing is being done to end the deaths.

People open your eyes - and do just a little research before you opine as to the deaths at the Golden Gate Bridge which by the way have now climbed to one a week - yes one a week and over 2,000 to date that we know of...the research and studies are unanimous - if a person is prevented from suicide 98% yes 98% never try again.

I wish the Doctor and the rest of those that spend their time talking about death on the Bridge would do less talking and more action.

While they are talking and philosophizing one person leaps off the Bridge every week.

I am a native of San Francisco and I am horrified at the inability of citizens to understand that this one mile stretch of road is killing one person and devastating their families forever while people like the good doctor write about romance others advance their sophomoric take on death at the Golden Gate.

Open your eyes and look - this is a real tragedy and if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem.

Just imagine the uproar if someone were to throw a poodle off the Golden Gate once a week ...

RAISE THE RAILS END THE DEATHS

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Pkh,

Thank you for your insights on this problem, all of which make sense and should be more widely known.

I'm aware that the bridge is financially troubled, which is given as one of the reasons they refuse to put up higher railings, the other being aesthetic.

I am deeply offended by anyone who would make a comparison as to which bridge offers the more stylish demise. Suicide should never be mentioned in the same sentence as romance; glamorizing such deaths is simply messing with the heads of those who are already so desperate that they are not thinking clearly.

Dr. Seiden and his cohorts should be ashamed.

Thank you for your visit here.