For whom the bridge tolls

THE BROADER PICTURE

THE AUTHORITIES refused to issue any scorecard, for fear of prompting an unseemly race or sweepstake; after all, San Francisco takes pride in its sophistication. But word slipped out none the less: Golden Gate Bridge was about to rack up its 1,000th official suicide. And no one could stop people counting. The published tally had stood at 997 when the announcements stopped at the beginning of June. There were two more suicides that month; a third just over a fortnight ago. No one knows if 25-year-old Eric Atkinson realised the macabre contribution he was making to San Francisco's history.

There's no suggestion that, before 1937 - when the Bridge was opened - San Franciscans trudged steadfastly into the cold currents of the Bay to destroy themselves. Not that suicide was unknown in the city; promising so much, the San Francisco of Gold Rush days had always had a corner on drastic disappointment. But the steepness of the city was opportunity enough. Any dismayed person could see the effectiveness of just going out of the window. San Francisco was also rich in guns, blades and all the regular poisons; it even had earthquakes and beautiful people, phenomena closely linked to self-destruction. To have gone into the bay would have seemed far-fetched, impractical and unduly arduous.

Then came the Bridge. The Golden Gate was actually the shorter of two bridges erected in the Thirties to link San Francisco with Oakland in the east and Marin to the north. But the Golden Gate was more beautiful and more dramatic than the Bay Bridge. Running approximately north-south, it is the frontier between America and the Pacific. Its brick colour, endlessly being repainted, picks up sunset and sunrise with the canny positioning of a star who knows where the lights are. The cantilever span is a bold emblem of the poetry of man's engineering, making assertive connections.

It is a bridge for traffic below - the fleets of the Second World War, the ships of trade and the city's spiffy yachts - and traffic above: there are six lanes for motor traffic, and sidewalks for pedestrians. Every day, no matter how strong the wind or how thick the fog, people walk the Bridge, for it offers some of the best views of the city and the bay. And it has just a modest railing that stops at waist level, so that promenaders may enjoy the view with the least interruption. But there has been an unforeseen consequence: any able-bodied person can go over the side in a trice. No one thinks it has really been only a thousand. There are confirmed suicides, bodies recovered, and people who simply disappeared.

The waters beneath the Bridge are not tranquil. Powerful currents surge through the Bay as the force of the Pacific bottlenecks. As the tides change, so bodies can go straight out to sea where there is a clear, 6,000- mile route to Tokyo (to say nothing of whims and passions in the water that could carry a corpse up to Alaska, or all the way south to tropic seas). It has to be added that the drop from the Bridge has sometimes been enough to shatter bodies. So there are unsolved vanishings in the Bay Area that add to the Bridge's dark romance.

San Franciscans are pretty cool about the thousand. They have declined to raise the barrier or make the jump more difficult. They admire the Bridge for its lovely arrogance and for the way red steel harnesses the wild land. The odd availability of death is treated every bit as comically as the irony that builds civilisation on one of the Earth's most impatient and profound geological faults. San Franciscans like to look at the bridge, and sometimes they wonder if that dot isn't going over. Why not? For nearly every known suicide from the bridge has gone over the eastern parapet - the side that faces the audience. !

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories
comedy

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?