Golden Gate Bridge Suicides - History
1937 Bridge Opens
1937 First Suicide
1939 California Highway Patrol calls for a suicide barrier
2012 75 Year anniversary of Bridge, over 1,500 suicides
2016 Deterrent Net construction to start
The Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937. It was the first bridge in the world to be built at the mouth of a major harbor, and as such had to be tall enough so that large ships could pass underneath.
Original designs for the bridge called for a taller railing specifically to prevent against suicides. In a last-minute design decision, the railing was lowered to its present four-foot-height to enhance the view. During construction, a net was strung the length of the bridge, at a cost of $130,000 ($2 million in today’s currency), to protect the workers. At various times, 19 men fell into the net accidentally and were saved. Four months before the bridge was completed, a section of scaffolding broke free, tore through the net, and 10 workers were killed. A new net was put up immediately, costing another $130,000. When the bridge was completed, the net was removed.
Ten weeks after the bridge opened, a 47-year-old World War I veteran named Harold Wobber became the first known suicide. He told a passerby, “This is as far as I go,” and jumped. The next year, Agnes Harrington became the first known female to jump. The youngest suicide was five-year-old Marilyn DeMont in 1945. (Over the years, at least three children age three or younger have been thrown over the short railing by suicidal parents who jumped after them, but their deaths are homicides.)
The Golden Gate Bridge is the only bridge in California with its own board and staff. All other bridges come under the purview of Caltrans, the California Department of Transportation, but the Golden Gate Bridge is governed by an independent group of 19 board members who are appointed by county Boards of Supervisors from within the 6 county Golden Gate Bridge District.
Calls for a suicide barrier on the bridge began in 1939 when the California Highway Patrol first requested action from the Bridge District. Over the next 70 years, many other individuals and groups pleaded for the district to erect a barrier to prevent suicides. Numerous studies were conducted, but in the end the findings were ignored and recommendations to construct a suicide barrier on the bridge were defeated.
In 2003, an article in the New Yorker titled “Jumpers” brought the problem to national attention. While the Bridge District took no action, filmmaker Eric Steel produced a stark, full-length documentary movie called The Bridge that was released in 2005 and opened the eyes of many people who were unaware of the problem. Also in 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a seven-part series called “Lethal Beauty” that ended with an editorial advocating for a barrier.
In October 2008, the Bridge District board accepted a plan for the first the addition of a suicide deterrent on the bridge. The vote came after a widespread, online poll in which the public considered five options—four variations of a taller railing or the net—. The net won. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission provided $5 million for architectural and engineering drawings, but funding for actual construction had not been secured and the deaths continued.
In 2014, three sources—the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Caltrans, and California’s Mental Health Services Act—allocated funding for the net with the stipulation that the Bridge District contribute also. In June 2014, the district reversed its previous decision and committed the remainder of funding needed. A total of $76 million was raised and construction was slated to begin in the fall of 2016. Project bids were opened in June of 2016 and came in well over the $76 million allocated. Bridge authorities are currently working to close the funding gap and get construction started.