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Golden Gate Bridge Icon of Beauty, Death


The Golden Gate Bridge -- the iconic gateway to San Francisco Bay -- has withstood 70 years of rain and shine. A marvel of engineering, it is also sadly a site where people commit suicide by throwing themselves off its heights. For Producer Liu Enming, VOA's Elaine Lu has the story.

At the entrance of the Golden Gate strait, where the Pacific Ocean meets the San Francisco Bay, sits the Golden Gate Bridge. Stretching across the strait for more than 2,700 meters, the bridge connects San Francisco and Marin County.

Mary Currie is the public affairs director for the Golden Gate Bridge. "Behind me is the Golden Gate Bridge," she explains, "which was built between 1933 and 1937. At the time it was built it was the longest suspension span ever built. Today it's ranked about seven or eight. The main span, which is the span between the towers, was 4,200 feet [1,280 meters], making it the longest bridge ever built at its time."

San Francisco's residents love their city's world-famous landmark.

Resident Peter Richards says, "The bridge is iconic, obviously. It's something that identifies San Francisco as a place, and as a city on the Pacific Rim. For me, it's very important. It's like a mountain to me. I look for it when I am trying to locate myself in the city."

Yet for Nancy Langhofer, another resident, the bridge means something entirely different. "This bridge is a cursed thing to me, it is a tragic symbol."

Since its completion in 1937, some 1,200 people have jumped to their deaths, giving the bridge a notoriety as a site for suicides.

Film director Eric Steel made a controversial documentary about the Golden Gate suicides. In the 2006 film, called "The Bridge", his cameras captured 23 of the 24 suicides in 2004. "We show very compelling footage, we show how mysterious the bridge is, we show how beautiful it is, we show how easy it is to climb over the railing, we show how many people there are walking back and forth everyday."

Steven Post, who specializes in Feng Shui -- the ancient Chinese practice of placement and arrangement of space to achieve harmony with the environment -- has his own theories. "One is its immense beauty and the drama of the long plunge into the ocean. For a dramatic ending, it is certainly pre-eminent there. But if we look at the bridge itself, its color, this international orange, it may be a bit of that as well."

Nancy Langhofer wants measures taken to prevent people from jumping off the bridge. "I am giving them (postcards) to people. It says: 'demand a suicide barrier.' It's been a long-time argument here in San Francisco about whether or not to install a suicide barrier on the bridge and a friend of mine committed suicide in 2004."

The Board of Directors of the Golden Gate Bridge began exploring the possibility of building a barrier two years ago, but not everyone is in favor of the idea.

One resident, Diana, commented, "I don't think building a barrier to prevent that is going to help a lot. It's just going to make it uglier. Then people who are trying to jump over are just going to find other places."

Another person, when asked if he thought barriers should be built, said, "I personally do not. I think the issue that has prevented the full completion of total-length suicide barriers, that the objection has been that it destroys the view, it destroys the experience of walking across the bridge."

But Nancy Langhofer replies, "There is a bridge in Canada that I know of, it has high incidents of suicides. They put up a fence or some kind. Why not do it here? It's been here since 1937. It's time."

Upon completion of the bridge, the chief engineer for the project, Joseph Strauss, wrote a poem called, "The Mighty Task is Done." But it may be that more will be done to this monumental structure, 70 years after it was built.

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