The opening of a new bridge in the early 20th century attracted a lot of attention. It was at that time that materials and engineering skill finally allowed cities to bridge rivers that had formerly required a ferry to cross. New York, with its many islands and rivers, was exceptional in this regard. New Yorkers eagerly followed news of the design and construction of bridges. Bridge openings where celebrated with days of events and fireworks attended by presidents and luminaries.
All of this would be boring documentary hardly worth reporting if it were not for this detail reported in Henry Petroski’s Engineers of Dreams: 235 people had applied for permission to jump from the Queensboro Bridge on its opening day. Petroski does not say that the Queensboro Bridge Celebration Committee, or any other organization, had actually solicited such requests, but the committee nonetheless read and categorized them:
Professional High Divers: 168
Would-be Suicides: 9
In explanation, Petroski offers this:
The would-be suicides were identified as women, who gave unrequited love, unhappy matrimonial experiences, and a struggle for existence as reasons they wanted to jump off the bridge. The unemployed were all men, hoping to land a job. One of them reasoned that if he survived he would get a good position, and if he did not survive he would not need work, and it could be given to some other unfortunate.
None of the applications were approved.