Falling Down the Gorge with Evan

There’s been a rash of suicides at my alma mater this year.  Cornell has long had a reputation as a “suicide school,” and six deaths in six months don’t help.  The geographic features of the campus may be contributing factors.


The mountainous region of upstate New York is breathtakingly beautiful.  Cornell is perched on a hill in Ithaca, a small town with a highly educated population and a leftist bent.  (I loved Ithaca, oh yes I did.)  A number of creeks have carved paths through the hills, resulting in deep and dramatic gorges.  Therefore, getting from point A to point B on campus often involves crossing a bridge.  As you might suspect, jumping off the bridges is the most popular method of committing suicide at Cornell.


Here is the most notorious suspect: the Suspension Bridge.



It’s high.  It’s secluded.  It beckons.


This essay in the New Yorker suggests that the Golden Gate Bridge, also a frequent jump site, is irresistible to the depressed and miserable—like having a loaded gun on the kitchen table. 


When I was a freshman, upperclassmen told me and my compatriots that the University always hung nets under the bridges at exam time.  This turned out to be a fool-the-freshmen lie.  Now, however, it seems the University has taken action.  They’ve erected fences on the bridges, and posted security guards. 


I can’t decide which part of this story is the most horrifying.  That six young people with presumably bright futures felt compelled to end their lives?  That the school, which does not, as far as I can recall, drive students to suicide has been unjustly castigated for these events?  That the beautiful campus has been marred by barriers and guards reminiscent of a prison camp? 


Is it Cornell’s job to protect students from the lure of the bridges?


More pictures:


Impressive, no?






Arts quad






I lived in this building




About the title of this post: One sunny Saturday, Evan and I headed out to catch a movie downtown.  Rather than the usual, boring route, we decided to take a shortcut by climbing down into the gorge and following it into town.  This did turn out to be fast, because we slid/fell much of the way down the hill, emerging with wet feet and bruised butts.  I was taking a creative writing class at the time and turned the adventure into a poem, which I titled Falling Down the Gorge with Evan.  Unfortunately, in the intervening years it has been lost forever.   




10 thoughts on “Falling Down the Gorge with Evan

  1. I was listening to this on the news. The family wants to fence to stay up but some kids didn’t use the bridge. How do you contain the human is they feel so lost in the world to kill themselves. SO tragic. I think they said the fence is only temporary until they decide to get good staff to help students battling depression.

  2. A fence is not going to detour people who want to kill themselves.  It’s just not.  They need a mental health team, as pretty much every university should, and to continue de-stigmatizing depression and seeking help.As for the last bit, it sounds like you had a blast!  Too bad the poem is lost!

  3.  I am saddened by the loss of your poem. I would very much have liked to read it. As for the suicides, while bridges and gorges do beckon, there are always ways to kill oneself, some very, very easy. Defacing our beautiful bridges and patrolling them like it is a prison camp are only band-aids, and the determined students will evade all roadblocks. What needs to be addressed is the reason for the suicides, and mental health care must be made readily accessible and not stigmatized. An Alumnus

  4. We were in Ithaca a couple of summers ago, and it is very beautiful.  You’re going to think I’m crazy, but I did feel a really gloomy vibe the whole time we were there.  We were hiking in the gorge underneath the suspension bridge and there were several homemade memorials and signs and warnings about people who had accidentally drowned in that gorge.  I felt like I was under a black cloud the entire time we were there.

  5. I used to walk across that suspension bridge to get to class every morning for 2 years in the bitter cold.  Cornell sure is a beautiful place, but unfortunately it is grey and cold for most of the school year.  The days of the plush greenery in these pictures seemed to allude me during my months in grad school there.  I knew of the suicide reputation at Cornell during high school — and certainly felt the high pressure environment when I studied there in the late 1990s.  I was saddened to hear the news of the recent suicides and now that I have learned of the fences and security guards…..ugh.  A sad, sad statement indeed.

  6. I just have no idea how to feel about this.  NO idea.  I think the bridges and scenery are beautiful.  I wish I had thought to apply to schools outside my state of residence when I was an isolated messed up 18 year old.  I doubt I would have killed myself.  I think instead I would have done a Bridge Happy Dance every day on the way to school.

  7. Good grief!   Bears don’t like deep gorges.   Had I known, you might have gone to a university with perfectly flat geography.   It certainly is beautiful there though.   Too bad the poem is lost to the sands of time.

  8. i lived closed to the Narrows bridge in Tacoma about 13 years ago and one night it was really quiet. no traffic noise. someone said there was a jumper. don’t know if someone actually jumped or just an attempt. something about bridges. like moths to the flame.

  9. beautiful!  never been there.  I feel for the families and for other worried parents and staff, but patrolling the bridge seems like a dumb idea.  Or at least ineffectual.  I mean, a student could jump from that dorm building you lived in.  The bridge & gorge just makes it *seem* more dramatic and like something could be done to stop it.   

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