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The Final Leap

The Final Leap: Suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge

John Bateson
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 322
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  • Book Info
    The Final Leap
    Book Description:

    The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most beautiful and most photographed structures in the world. It's also the most deadly. Since it opened in 1937, more than 1,500 people have died jumping off the bridge, making it the top suicide site on earth. It's also the only international landmark without a suicide barrier. Weaving drama, tragedy, and politics against the backdrop of a world-famous city,The Final Leapis the first book ever written about Golden Gate Bridge suicides. John Bateson leads us on a fascinating journey that uncovers the reasons for the design decision that led to so many deaths, provides insight into the phenomenon of suicide, and examines arguments for and against a suicide barrier. He tells the stories of those who have died, the few who have survived, and those who have been affected-from loving families to the Coast Guard, from the coroner to suicide prevention advocates.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95140-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. 1-6)

    It’s a little after 6 A.M. on Tuesday, January 29, 2008. A lone figure walks head down on the Golden Gate Bridge. She is seventeen years old, pretty, with shoulder-length brown hair. In five months she’s supposed to graduate from Redwood High School in Marin County, one of the top-rated high schools in California. In the fall, her friends will be heading off to college. She could be heading off to college, too; she has a 3.7 grade point average and has been accepted at Bennington College in Vermont, her first choice. Bennington is a long way from home, which...

  5. ONE Beauty and Death
    (pp. 7-22)

    I’ve been thinking about suicide for a long time. In fact, it has occupied my daily life for the last fifteen years. That’s how long I have directed the Contra Costa Crisis Center, a twenty-four-hour crisis intervention and suicide prevention center in Contra Costa County, California.

    Contra Costa has a population of 1.1 million people. It is directly east of San Francisco, across the bay from the city. This fact isn’t particularly notable except that it’s a short ride by car or bus from many parts of the county to the Golden Gate Bridge. After San Francisco and Marin, the...

  6. TWO Fatal Decisions
    (pp. 23-54)

    The issue of suicide has been inextricably linked with the Golden Gate Bridge since it was built. From the bridge’s inauguration in 1937 to the present, the dangers of this iconic landmark have been ignored, obscured, and dismissed by nearly everyone—especially public officials and the media. The dark underside of the bridge’s history offers testimony to its Janus-like appeal. While it is a monumental edifice, noted for its beauty, it also serves as the world’s leading site for suicide.

    The building of a bridge, over the shortest point at the mouth of San Francisco Bay, was deemed impossible during...

  7. THREE Endless Ripple
    (pp. 55-79)

    It is widely believed that each suicide directly affects at least six people, family members and close friends. Since there are more than 35,000 suicides every year, on average, in the United States, roughly 200,000 Americans lose a loved one to suicide annually. Over ten years, that’s two million people, all of them grieving a new, inexplicable, and often preventable death.

    The dark trail of suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge over decades has left thousands of people to mourn. In uncovering the personal stories of victims and their families, one learns how silence and stigma have conspired to mask...

  8. FOUR Opening Up
    (pp. 80-100)

    With Golden Gate Bridge suicides, it’s often the coroner who uncovers the complexity and pain inherent in the act of jumping. The stories conveyed by this public servant illuminate a mesh of psychological and physical suffering.

    Most suicides are planned. When Diane Hansen, thirty, of Sausalito jumped from the bridge, it was two weeks after her mother died and was cremated. As Hansen fell, narrowly missing a Harbor Queen cruise ship filled with tourists, she held onto a 10-by-10-inch white box that contained her mother’s ashes. Stephen Hoag, twenty-six, of San Francisco, left a suicide note that said, “Do not...

  9. FIVE Surviving the Fall
    (pp. 101-128)

    If you jump from the Golden Gate Bridge, there’s little chance that you’ll survive. Statistically, the odds are one in fifty that you’ll hit the water at exactly the right angle to live and tell about it. In the stories of the few survivors, one gleans two main themes: first, that suicide is often preventable; second, that a suicide attempt doesn’t foretell a future filled with misery and despair. In fact, survivors seem to live fully and sometimes make it their life’s work to keep others from making the same mistake. In their minds, and in those of the experts...

  10. SIX In Lieu of a Net
    (pp. 129-153)

    Because the Golden Gate Bridge lacks a suicide barrier, the only safety net for jumpers is the one that’s provided by the dogged efforts of mental health workers, the police, and the Coast Guard. These helpers and responders, on the front lines of crisis, often try valiantly to forestall tragedy. Their efforts save lives, but the need for a physical deterrent to make their work more efficacious is vital.

    San Francisco has one of the oldest and busiest suicide hotlines in the country. Founded in 1962, the hotline receives 70,000 calls annually. Of these, 7,000 are actual suicide calls and...

  11. SEVEN Guardians of an Icon
    (pp. 154-184)

    Although Golden Gate Bridge suicides aren’t a secret, they have received considerably less press than tragedies like this usually generate. Historically, except for a brief flurry of articles whenever the Bridge District commissions a new barrier study, or when the Marin County coroner issues a report, bridge suicides haven’t been covered by the media and the extent of the problem has remained largely unknown. That’s just the way Bridge District officials want it, and it has helped their cause that the California Highway Patrol and the U.S. Coast Guard follow policies of silence as well.

    This situation started changing in...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  13. EIGHT The Barrier Debate
    (pp. 185-211)

    Knowing that the Golden Gate Bridge is the most popular suicide site on earth, one is led to ask several obvious questions: Why doesn’t it have a suicide barrier? Why, among the world’s great architectural wonders, is America’s most famous bridge the only international landmark that people can jump off of so easily? Why have the deaths been allowed to continue when, everywhere else, preventative measures have been taken?

    The answer to these questions is tied to the public’s attitude about suicide. For many people, suicide is morally reprehensible. It’s against their religion, or against their culture, or contrary to...

  14. Epilogue
    (pp. 212-226)

    The way to end suicides at the Golden Gate Bridge and every other problem bridge in the world is simple and straightforward: erect a barrier. In every instance in which a barrier has been added to a bridge, tall building, freeway overpass, or train crossing, suicides from that site have been reduced dramatically or ended altogether. Moreover, once a barrier—either a tall railing or a net—has gone up, suicides haven’t increased from neighboring sites, nor have most people who fixated on the bridge decided to kill themselves another way. Many members of the public choose to believe otherwise,...

    (pp. 227-247)
    (pp. 248-249)
    (pp. 250-286)
    (pp. 287-304)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 305-309)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 310-310)