Postcard from... New York


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The Independent Online

It is not quite the Golden Gate, but the Rip Van Winkle Bridge that spans the Hudson River under the shadow of the Catskill Mountains two hours north of New York City certainly has its own architectural grandeur. Sadly, it has something else in common with its distant San Francisco cousin – it attracts jumpers.

Fans of Washington Irving, who wrote the story of Rip Van Winkle sleeping through the Revolutionary War in 1819, can stroll east to west across the bridge on a separated walkway and gaze towards to the mountains, in summer a hazy blue smudge on the horizon. It was in those hills that Rip stumbled into a cave occupied by otherworldly bearded men and sank into his protracted snooze.

But these days any reveries are interrupted by new signs posted at intervals across the bridge that begin “Life is Worth Living”. They urge anyone considering taking the leap to the void below – the bridge spans not just the river but also a main rail line – instead to ring a phone number for suicide counselling. The signs are not always a sufficient deterrent, of course.  When a 27-year-old man used the bridge to take his own life last November there was no record of him attempting to place that call. And the existing barriers along the edge, barely 5ft high, aren’t much of an obstacle either.