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France: Jumping-Off Place

2 minute read

Since its erection for the 1889 Paris World’s Fair, Engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel’s spidery 984-ft. iron tower has attracted more attention seekers than anything in France except the bikini.

Mountain climbers have scaled its sides, acrobats have walked up on their hands, stunt pilots have flown between its legs, and an adventurous baker once teetered all the way up the 363 steps to the first platform on a pair of stilts. Even more spectacularly the descent has been at tempted by bicycle, parachute and, in 1911, by a tailor who rigged himself out in a batwing cape and jumped off to see if he could fly (he couldn’t).

Despondents in ever-increasing numbers have also turned to the Eiffel Tower as just about the most dramatic jumping-off place in France. With the tower’s suicide rate approaching one a month, the Paris press last year campaigned for anti-suicide barriers around the “cursed monument.” The Eiffel Tower Society, which oversees the structure, obliged by building a 51-ft.-high steel-wire fence around the edge of each of the tower’s three platforms.

To no avail. Within one 24-hour period last month, two persons scaled the barrier and plunged to their deaths. Last week a young Vietnamese man became the tower’s 349th suicide. Buffeted by more angry headlines, the Eiffel society announced that they would heighten the barrier to ten feet. Would that stop would-be suicides? Shrugged the official in charge of tower safety: “There is only one solution: dismantle the Eiffel Tower piece by piece. Then suicide candidates would have to throw themselves into the Seine.”

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