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Jumper

A postcard becomes a magical object when it's not just an image but also a story. When it captures a particular moment through the eyes or pen of a person formerly living on Earth.

Such it is with this somewhat mundane (though still classic) view of the Brooklyn Bridge, which has been elevated nearly to the level of a modest novella with the authors annotation, which begins cheekily: "Over)) Not the Bridge--But the card."

What are they going to tell us?

Brooklyn_Bridge_Antique_PostcardBrooklyn_Bridge_Suicide

"NY City: 2/15/8

Yesterday a fellow jumped from this bridge at about its highest point and just missed an ice-floe and also a tug that was nearly underneath. The papers state that he was suffering from the 'Grippe' and was undoubtedly out of his head. He escaped without any apparent injury and is being held for attempted sucicide (sic). He fell about

        160 feet                            George"

A 60 word tour de force! And one which merits some exegesis.

Take first the subject, that of an attempted suicide from the Brooklyn Bridge - a short footnote in the life of an iconic American structure, yet also a peek into the dark and intensely personal chapter of the jumper's life.

Then the interesting turns of phrase. "Grippe" meaning flu, from the French. The unfortunate though strangely comical mispelling of "su-ci-cide." The very concept that being "out of one's head" (from flu no less) is cause enough for a suicide attempt (the concept of "mental health" in its modern usage wasn't commonplace until the mid-century).

A period-limited search for "Brooklyn Bridge jumper" in the New York Times archive yielded a gem of an article from the February 14, 1908 edition with the headline "Dives Off Bridge in Sight of Crowd."

 

The jumper was named John "Jack" Grant, a former pugilist (boxer) - a curious fact given what we know now about repeated head trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

The scene painted by the article is vivid - hundreds of onlookers were on the bridge and "gasped with horror" when he "plunged from the rail like a swimmer diving from a springboard." As indicated on the postcard, he missed several East River ice floes as well as a tug boat named Castor, the crew of which very quickly fished him out of the water with hooks.

Incredibly, he did not appear to be injured other than a black eye. His emergency physician even thirstily noted that "Grant had the toughest physique that had ever come under [my] observation." Sadly the article ends on an ambiguous note - Grant later lapsed back into unconsciousness at the hospital in relation to "internal injuries whose seriousness could not be determined."

In further strangely positive and superlative language for such a sad event, "the police declare that Grant's attempt to commit suicide was the coolest and most deliberately planned of any ever attempted from the bridge," having just visited his printer union headquarters in an apparently level-headed state.

As the postcard author notes, suicide was a felony in New York punishable by up to two years in prison as recently as 1917. Without further research, it's unclear whether Grant survived, and if so, whether he was actually charged and imprisoned for his act. 

All that may be left of the most frightful day in the life of Jack Grant is some newspaper copy and a 3.5" by 5.5" piece of postal history.

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