The Golden Gate
The Golden Gate Bridge connects more than San Francisco and
Marin County; it connects the world of the living to that of the dead.
Since its opening in 1937, the 4,200-foot suspension bridge that
spans San Francisco Bay has played host to on average 25
suicides per year, more
than 1,000 suicides total.
Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point
The drop from the bridge is 222 feet at low tide. This is the
equivalent to a 19 story building. Despite this, at least twelve
people have jumped and survived. Ironically, people who
deliberately jump are more likely to survive than those who
accidentally fall off the bridge because they are more relaxed.
Bridge officials say that most suicides try to be
considerate of others and park their cars in the parking lot
before walking to the middle of the bridge and jumping. They
also say almost everyone leaps from the Eastern side of the
Bridge. Perhaps this is to take one last look at the San
After a successful suicide it's up to the Coast Guard, if
the body landed in the water, and the Bridge personnel, if it
lands on the ground or in the moat surrounding the South
tower, to reclaim the body.
Moat surrounding tower
Often this is not easy as bodies
can sink quickly or come apart on the rocks. The most macabre
aspect of this is perhaps the Bridge personnel's use of a crab
pot and grappling hook to scoop up the body parts. Sometimes
the crab pot comes back with crabs as well. Drawn to the now
lifeless flesh, the crabs first consume the eyeballs then make
their way to the soft skin of the cheeks.
The Bay's deadly pull, however, predates the bridge and its
jumpers. In 1853, the steamer SS Tennessee disappeared into the
dense fog of Golden Gate Strait. Running afoul of the Gate's
notorious current and rocks she sank quickly (Tennessee Cove is
named in her honor) only to rise again as a phantom. The phantom ship has been sighted by credible witnesses over the
years, often passing below the bridge, its deck unmanned, only
to fade into the fog minutes later.
On rare occasions, the SS Tennessee has passed other
vessels plying the gate. One such incident occurred in November 1942, when crew members
of the USS Kennison fixed their gaze on the outmoded SS
Curiosity became amazement, amazement became bafflement: The
strange ship left a wake, but nothing registered on the
USS Kennison reported "Ghost Ship"
The Tennessee isn't the only ship to go down in the
treacherous waters. Dozens have run aground or sunk in the
straight. In 1901, the steamer SS City of Rio de Janeiro
hit rock off Fort Point. The commotion caused her 200 passengers
to rush to the deck. Passengers fought for seats in the
lifeboats only to overcrowd and sink them. Fist fights broke out
over life jackets. In less than 18 minutes she was inundated by
the Pacific's frigid waters with a loss of 129 souls. Shaken
survivors clung to debris and struggled to shore as the hiss of
escaping steam and the screams of the dieing gave way to the
still silence of the coastal fog.
The Golden Gate's cold waters have swallowed more than sailors and
suicides. On Feb. 17, 1937, 10 bridge workers rode a
falling scaffold through a safety net. On foggy nights when the
wind howls through the cables, one can almost hear the ghastly
cries of men plummeting to their deaths.
Throughout its history the Golden Gate has beckoned travelers
as a symbol of freedom, of new opportunity, of hope. Does the
Gate beckon the dead as well?