I hate to admit it but Marcel Proust was probably right. Even people who know history tend to repeat the same idiotic mistakes their grandfathers made, who were, of course, repeating their grandfather’s mistakes - Etc. ad naseum. As proof of this dismaying lack of a learning curve in humans I give you the noble sacrifice of the Right Honorable William Huskisson, Minister of Parliament (above). If Christ died for our sins, then William Huskisson died to prove that the human species are morons.
In the 175 years since it has become a given that to be killed by a train you have to be an idiot. I mean, it’s not as if trains swerved and hit people at random. Pretty much you have to be on the train tracks to be hit by a train. See tracks, look for train. See train, get off tracks. But according to the U.S. Department of Transportation some 2,618 stupid people in this country were killed by trains in 2010.
But are people stupider for being hit by trains, or are the rest of us stupider for not noticing the consistency with which people avoid crossing guards and ignore flashing warning lights or who look but don’t see a huge locomotive barreling down upon them? Could it not be that perhaps having several thousand tons of steel, which may take a mile to stop, rushing through our neighborhoods “at grade” for the last 170 years constituted a fundamental design flaw? Perhaps being hit by a train is never entirely the victim’s fault. After all, just how smart are engineers who don’t allow for human stupidity in their designs?
Since the lovely Golden Gate opened on May 27th, 1937, an average of 20 people a year have jumped from the lovely span. That makes around 1,369 people who were so stupid they thought suicide was romantic, and didn’t connect a graceful swan dive with hitting the cold water at something around 75 miles per hour. At that speed water behaves much like concrete. It can't get out of the way fast enough to remain fluid, and if you haven’t seen a jumper who has hit concrete, I highly recommend you avoid seeing one or being one.
Said the unadorned bridge's defenders, “Why should everybody pay for a barrier to save the lives of a small minority?” By that reasoning, all those suicides were sacrificed so a pint sized engineer could have an unobstructed view of San Francisco Bay - on those rare days when the fog did not obstruct everybodies' view. It all seems particularly silly, when you remember that the members of the M.T.C. always agreed to a barrier to prevent pedestrians and bicyclists from falling onto the roadway, but remained opposed to one to prevent people from jumping or falling the other way, into the bay. Stupid.
Well, given enough time, Mr. Huskisson, perhaps your death will have meaning after all. Someday.
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