Cross Posted from http://kurzglobe.blogspot.com/…
The George Washington Bridge. That vital trans-Hudson span and architectural wonder has been in the news quite a lot lately. Of course the bridge’s Fort Lee approaches are at the center of several investigations concerning whether or not they were purposely bottlenecked last September at the behest of Governor Christie (though certainly, members of his office were at the center of the bottleneck). Whether or not the Bridge will bring down the governor, time will tell.
Ever since I was a kid, “The Bridge” has always been at the center of a dramatic trip. Coming from New Jersey, you don’t really see the span until you’re right upon it. While traversing it, one can really take in its majesty as it launches from the Jersey Palisades, over the wide, blue Hudson waters and into the world’s principal metropolis. For millions of motorists and travelers, it is a bridge to wonders, to opportunities, to the Yankee Game, to an evening in the Big City.
Still, since its completion in 1928 the bridge has served a more nefarious, disheartening purpose. For so many people, the bridge has been a final destination, a conduit, an otherworldly span, and a terrifying shortcut to the Afterlife.
A glance at area news sources prove that, just over the past two weeks, leaping from the span has been the primary method of attempted and successful suicide attempts. On May 1 of this year a couple jumped to their death in the waters far below; several others have tried and been ‘talked down’ by police and passersby. In these difficult financial times, some people are finding themselves especially desperate. The lack of affordable, prompt, comprehensive care for the mentally ill doesn’t help either. And thus, The Bridge lurks, always nearby, twinkling at night, always accessible.
The bridge was finished in 1928, seemingly just in time for the Great Depression which followed a year later. The Depression years took a devastating financial and personal toll on millions, and some of them made their way to The Bridge in a distressed effort to escape the times.
As a local historian and history teacher, I try to remind my readers and students that history is more than just wars and diseases and assassinations. It’s the story of real people coping with real challenges that, from their point of view, might have no end. For many of The Bridge’s early jumpers of the 1930’s, this was certainly the case. Depressed, broke, alienated…during this era, research shows us that too many leapt to their demise – even when, apparently, under a doctor’s care.
One of the most touching and disturbing examples that I found occurred in late October 1932, when The Bridge was still new. Elizabeth Trivett, aged 28, walked to the span’s center and jumped into the Hudson. After a short investigation Police had found she drove in from Glen Ridge in Essex County. Her note was especially poignant, as well as disturbing:
“Telephone Bloomfield 2-0116 and tell the doctor I’ve done it. Made up my mind and gone ‘somewhere.’ I know dad and mother’s hearts will not survive this shock, so please give them something at once to ease their going. My way of going is lovely.”
As the Depression wore on, The Bridge successfully tempted jumpers from the flailing financial industry. In August 1935, Manhattan resident and bank vice president Claude Allnutt, 56, took his final leap. His story is particularly interesting. A self-made Maryland man, Allnutt was a highly educated college grad who worked himself up in the world, from clerk to bank executive. He was being treated for depression at the time, but apparently that did not stop him from making his tragic end. He left behind five children. The police officer that witnessed the jump claimed that Allnutt was particularly directed in his goal and did not hesitate for a moment before leaping. Others sometimes waited and wailed for hours, but not Allnutt.
Then there was April 19, 1938. On that infamous day two men jumped from the bridge, apparently unrelated to one another. Reports on the first jumper were hard to come by, but the second man, who could not be immediately identified, was about 65. The only clues to his identity and motive were the fact that upon paying his five cent pedestrian toll, he mentioned that he had broken his last dollar. His suicide note could not be immediately deciphered, as it was scribbled in Yiddish.
The bridge continues to attract those who seek a final end. In 2012 alone 18 went to their deaths, with 43 more trying.
Suicide is an extremely personal and individual act. I really cannot suggest how the bridge might be made safer for those who are absolutely determined to end their lives. For those who are not contemplating that final act, The Bridge provides a spectacular pedestrian journey between New Jersey and New York. And the bridge is a long one; I don’t know how responsible we can hold local and Port Authority Police for patrolling every inch of it, looking for people who are seeking to end their lives. There are other, more pressing concerns for them, like preventing massive acts of terror and monitoring millions of motorists. But I know that many law enforcement officers who work in and on the span have received special training in dealing with the suicidal.
In the end, The Bridge will continue to stand. It will stand for progress, for the links that bring us together, and, unfortunately, for death.