Report of the Commissioners, History of Lincoln Park, Compiled by I. J. Bryan, Secretary to the Commissioners, 1899
In 1893 the construction of the high bridge over the (Lincoln Park) lagoon was undertaken, and completed in the following year, furnishing not only a passageway from the beach drive to the inner drive, but also the means of healthful exercise to all who might climb its numerous steps, and a splendid point of observation from which to view the Park.
Chicago Tribune, November 9. 1897
A young woman, pretty and stylishly dressed, whose hands were soft and white, climbed on the rail of the high bridge in Lincoln Prk at 2 p.m. yesterday and leaped to her death inn the cold waters below. Rising from the first immersion and seeing a group of persons rush to proffer her aid, she struggled to get further from them, and sank to the bottom.
The body was recovered, but every mark upon the clothing that might have furnished a possible clew to identify had been removed. The little silk purse had been emptied of its cards and papers, and only a gold ring, set with a small emerald, was found by the police.
The young woman was noticed first by park policemen acting suspiciously in the neighborhood of the animal house. She was dressed in black silk and wore a white collar and a red tie. A heavy walking jacket and a blue fedora hat completed the costume. Her hands were neatky gloved, and she carried a small silk umbrella.
A few minutes before 2 o’clock the woman started to cross the high bridge. On the structure at the time were two or three boys, while on the approach from the east were half a dozen young men. No particular attention was paid to the young woman as she hurried towards the east end of the bridge.
Plunges Into the Water,
Suddenly she halted. She stopped for just a moment, and casting a quick glance around, as if looking for some one, sge turned suddenly and began to retrace her steps. She walked slowly back, with one hand on the iron railing of the bridge. When about half way across she again glanced in each direction, and finding herself alone on the bridge she hurriedly climbed on top of the broad guard post, and without a moment’s hesitation plunged into the waters of the lagoon beneath. She uttered no cry, made no struggle as she entered the water.
Among those who witnessed the leap from the bridge were Frank and George Wagner, brothers, residing at 567 Burling street. They were on their way home from a hunting trip and had just approached the bridge when the young woman mounted the guard post and leaped into the lagoon. With a cry for help the two brothers ran to the shore, and with their guns reached towards the drowning woman. Several other persons were soon on the shores of the lagoon and two park policemen quickly appeared.
Fights Would-Be Rescuers.
Apparently fearing she would be dragged out of the water alive, the woman struggled to keep away from the poles that were reached out toward her. It was all over in a moment. The air left her balloon sleeves and she sank to the bottom.
For three hours the police grappled in the lagoon and finally the body was recovered, several hundred feet south of where the suicide had sank. The body was removed to William Poth’s undertaking rooms at 860 North Halsted street.
A careful examination of the clothing was made. In the left glove was found a silver quarter, and on the third finger of the same hand the woman wore the small emerald ring. There was no initial in the ring. Two other fingers of the left hand bore the imprints of rings, and the police believe the suicide threw these into the lagoon before she jumped from the bridge.
The young woman was about 24 years old, of middle height. Her complexion was dark, with brown eyes and a wealth of darl brown hair. The description of the was sent out to all the police stations, but no person answeing that description was marked “missing.”
Chicago Chronicle, December 9, 1897
Poised on the edge of the south lagoon in Lincoln park, John Schwinen gazed downward at 100 children skating in the ice yesterday afternoon at 3 o’clock. With a wild upward wave of his hands he leaped far out and fell head foremost on the mirror-like ice, which broke with a crash, marking the fourth suicide from the same bridge in the last three months.
A score of merry skaters were directly under Schwinen when he jumped. Through some lucky chance all escaped from going into the large hole caused by the body. When Officer Murphy and half a dozen boys reached the spot nothing but the victim’s feet were protruding above the water. On the bottom of the new pair of shoes he wore were yje words:
- Warranted water proof.
Schwinen, who was 62 years old, and employed as a house mover, left his little home at 18 Sullivan street shortly after noon. He went to the home of a married daughter and then to the park. He was the father of twelve children, five of whom were married.
Laid Off From Work.
Three days ago, Schwinen, who worked for Math Poncius, 98 Orchard street, was informed that there woukd be no work for a few days. He seemed to brood over this fact and hour after hour would go over his cash book counting the money he had received and spent during the last year. After his noonday meal he suddenly sprang from his chair and put several boxes of matches in his pocket. Then he reached for his old pipe, which had brought him comfort for more than a score of years. Then he crossed the room where a little grand-daughter was seated on the floor playing with some of his children.
“Here, Fraulein, is the last penny I’ll ever give you,” said chwinen, as he handed the money to the girl.
Turning to his wife, who had noticed his odd actions, he smiled, and then with a savage movement threw his pipe and tobacco pouch on the floor. After stopping long enough to look at the broken fragments of his pipe he hurried down the long flight of stairs and into the street. He arrived at the residence of his daughter a few minutes after 12 o’clock and stayed there only a few minutes. He was not seen on the Lincoln park bridge until 3 o’clock.
Childen in a Panic.
Several little boys told the police they noticed Schwinen watching them skating. Their attention was attracted to him by the continual shaking of his head and the low, muttering tones in which he addressed the boys. He walked up the long and high bridge that spans the lagoon, took off his hat and waved it in the air several times. Twice he called loudly, but the witnesses say they could not understand him. Whirling around twice on the very brink, he waved his hands, and with a final cry leaped downward.
His body revolved and turned over and then shot down, head foremost, like that of a diver. The force of the fall on the ice cut and crushed the skull of the demented man. The children who were skating under the bridge hurriedly fled from the cracking ice. When Officer Murphy arrived Schwinen was dead.
The body was taken to William Poths’ undertaking establishment, 800 North Halsted street, where an inquest will be held this morning. Mrs. Schwinen and her children called at the morgue and identified the body. A card of N. Neufeld, attorney, 92 La Salle street, a silver watch, a pair of glasses, knife and a lot of matches were found in Schwinen’s pockets, as also was a diary which gave an account of the money he had expended for a year.
Mrs. Schwinen could give no reason for her husband’s act beyond the fact that he had been acting strangely for a few days.
The high bridge has recently become a favorite spot for attempts at suicide; it seems completely to have fascinated the north-siders who have self-destruction in mind. The bridge is now closely watched by the park police and the commissioners are thinking of posting a special man there.
Chicago Chronicle, December 12, 1897
A great high bridge of steel, a mighty span, which gleams white in the sunlight and arches gracefully over the tossing waters of the Lincoln park lgoon firty-five feet below, is the structure from which several unhappy mortals have hurled themselves into eternity,
It seems to tempt strangely those who seek relief from the cares which pursue them. Three people are known to hve jumped from its highest point to the deep water of the lagoon. One other hapless woman was seized by the park police as she was preparing to make the fatal leap. How many others of those whose bodies have been found found in the lagoon in the last four years plunged to death from the white railing will never be known. Under cover of the darkness, with no one to hear their last despairing cry or to be startled by the splash as the dark waters closed above them, many of the park suicides may have leaped from that same fatal spot at the highest point of the arch. Their drowned and pitiful bodies have been found when morning broke over the park, floating in the lagoon, but the last chapter in their broken lives will ever remain unread, and the park police only point to the high bridge and shrug their shoulders when a body is drawn out of the water.
Four years ago this Bridge of Sighs was erected. The commissionerws had constructed a sea wall and esplanade close to the edge of Lake Michigan and between it and and the park a deep lagoon half a mile or more in length, stretching away straight and wide and forming an effectual barrier between the park and the outer walk and sea wall along its entire length. The lagoon was designed for regattas and swimming races, and served excellently well its purpose. But it was desired that a means of commnication between the main land and the outer portion be constructed to avoid the necessity of a long walk around either end of the lagoon for those who wished to sit near the sea wall and watch the play of the lake and catch the breezes. Thus the high bridge was built.
Bridge of Sighs
Designed as an Ornament.
Park bridges ordinarily are low and designed for utility. They are sufficiently high above the ponds to allow the rowboats to pass beneath them, and that answers all requirements. But on account of the peculiar situation of the lagoon bridge it can be seen from a great distance up and down the drive. It was decided by the commissioners to erect a highly ornamental structure, a bridge like none other in Chicago, one which would become a distinguished featyre of Lincoln park. In this they succeeded. The foundations from which the span springs were laid far back from the water’s edge at either side and the base of the arch is probably 200 feet long. From these piers of stone the steel structure springs in a light and graceful arch, and at no point is the bridge horizontal. A flight of steps at either side reaches almost to the crown of the bridge, and even this point is curved. There is a low rail, not more than four feet high, on which visitors to the park may lean to view the beautiful panorama of wood and water and lawn spread out on all sides, and forty-five feet below the highest point of the bridge is the water, twelve feet deep.
It was not until this year that the bridge seemed to attract those bent to suicide. It was admired and crossed by thousands, but not until last July was it the scene of a tragedy, so far as the records of the park show. On July 14 a stranger walked wearily up the long flight of steps and paused at the center of the bridge. He leaned upon the railing a few minutes until the nearest him had passed on and had begun to descend the stairs. Suddenly he arose from his recumbent posture and a policeman, far away on the drive, who chanced to be looking toward the bridge, saw him climb easily to the top of the railing and vault over. Down he went, turning over in his descent, and struck the water on his back. The body went under for a few seconds, while policemen and visitors were running around looking for some means of saving him. Then it arose to the surface and floated there until the police hauled it out. No one knew the man. The only trace of identification was the monogram “C.H.” on some of his clothing. No one came forward to claim the body, and the case went to swell the long list of “found drowned and unknown.”
Young Girl’s Fatal Leap.
It was a dull fall day, dark and forbidding, when the bridge claimed its next victim. Maud Jennings must have contemplated jumping from it long before she made the fatal leap, for she came to the park from her home miles away, on North Rockwell street, immediately after having a quarrel with her mother. She had been reproved for some childish indiscretion—her mother had gone so far as to strike her. With her heart burning with rage and indignation, the young girl hastened across the great city to Lincoln park, passed a hundred methods of suicide and went directly to the Bridge of Sighs.
From the crown of the bridge she leaped into the lagoon Nov. 8, and the next day her weeping mother identified the body. She had often threatened that she would end her life some day, and the straight road she took for the high bridge when finally she thought her troubles too many and too heavy for her would indicate that the bridge, with its great high span and the peaceful waters under it, had often flitted through her disordered imagination.
Prevents a Suicide.
A watchful police officer saved another woman from following Miss Jennings to the other shore three weeks later. Nov. 27 a woman, agitated and perturbed, was seen to hurry across the lawn toward the steps of the high bridge. Visitors are not numerous in the park in the latter days of November, and a policeman with nothing else to occupy his mind watched the woman as she hastened toward the bridge. His mind reverted to the suicide fo a few weeks before, and he moved toward the bridge with a half-formed notion that the woman might be about to jump.
When he reached the steps she was at the top, and as he proceeded the suicide idea seemed to grow stronger in his mind. At the apex he found the woman kneeling beside the ledge, having removed her watch and rings and placed them in her cloak, which lay on the bridge. At sight of the policeman she started to escape. He seized her and attempted to calm her terror, but she wept and moaned and begged to be allowed to die. Had he been a minute later she would have jumped. She was taken home by relatives, who were searching the city for her.
Lincoln Park High Bridge in Winter
The Bridge’s Latest Victim.
Last week brought the latest addition to the list of victims of the high bridge when John Schwinnen plunged from the arch and crashed through the ice. There was a covering three inches thick over the water of the lagoon and the body of the unfortunate man crashed half way through it, poised a moment on the jagged edges of the ice and then sank down into the icy water until only the feet remained in sight. He was, as usual, despondent and disheartened when he entered the park and it is every way probable his mind was fixed on suicide and that he was heading for the bridge when he came in.
Talk of prevention of suicides from the high bridge is idle speculation. The commissioners have not seriously considered the matter and are not liable to do so. They say they will do nothing which will interfere with the comfort or convenience of the sane people who wish to use the bridge and the insane, heart-broken and desperate must take their chances. As to building an extra high guard rail around the bridge, it is very doubtful if that will be done. It would detract much from the graceful lines of the structure and that is enough to condemn the plan. It is impossible to prevent suicides, say the commissioners. If a man or woman seeks death it will be found in one form or another. If they were cut off from the high bridge the wide lake stretches out chilling arms to enfold them and it is not likely any steps will be taken looking to a change in the new Bridge of Sighs.
Several plans to get around the difficulty erected originally for ornamental purposes as well as the convenience of the public the members of the board are loth to do anything to disturb the graceful outlines and symmetry of the structure. They absolutely refuse to consider this suggestion.
Another scheme presented in good failt by a visitor to the park the day the aged German jumped to the ice below is ingenious, if not acceptable to the minds of the authorities. This visitor thought it would be a good idea to stretch a net over the water, high enough to clear the heads of the oarsmen and the masts of the small vessels which are used on the lagoon. He favored stretching the nets far enough away from the sides of the bridge to make it impossible to jump beyond their limits. They should be placed on both the north and south sides of the bridge. His scheme has this merit that it would make it impossible for any suicide to reach the water and death by that means as long as the net remained string enough to resist the impact.
But this scheme, while recognized as possessing a certain degree of merit, was also rejected. The board is in control of the park solely for the good of the public and has not the right, as the members and police believe, to do anything which will reduce the pleasure of the people herein, hence all plans to stop the world-weary from using the thing of beauty as the point of exit from a troubled existence have been rejected as forbidden under the terms of the authority of the board.
Suicides have occurred in other portions of the park as well as from the apex of the arch of the high bridge. Given the man or woman with the desire to die and he or she is usually skillful enough to balk any attempts to prevent the consummation of the intention. But do what they will or do nothing, the fact remains that the bridge has become marked as the refuge of the suicides barred from the usual modes of forcing themselves from the earth.
Its graceful lines are now viewed with shuddering and horror by the right-minded visitors to the park. Those long, slight, curved beams which support the arch are like theboutstretched tentacles of some huge spider reaching out to devour human victims. The dread fascination of the spot is felt by all who venture in the beautiful pleasure spot of the north side. Eyes are turned toward it as if the owners would, but could not, turn away to more pleasing sights. Heads glance fearfully over shoulders as the owners hurry from its vicinity. It is a spot of plague, horror and death.
The Lincoln Park Police
Inter Ocean, November 22, 1908
In the presence of scores of spectators an unidentified man, apparently about 35 years old, ended his life yesterday afternoon by jumping off the “suicide bridge” in Lincoln Park into the lagoon below.
Mrs. James Schellendecker, 2417 Calumet avenue, and Miss Sophie Ryan, 61 Twenty-fourth street, were passing in an automobile and saw him jump. They hurried in search of a policeman and found Lincoln Park Policeman Joseph Langlois.
When they reached the bridge hundreds of spectators had gathered on each side of the lagoon and several men were diving for the body. Policeman Langlois took off his coat and shoes and jumped in near the spot where the body was said to have disappeared. After diving repeatedly for the body for ten minutes it was recovered.
Chicago Tribune, May 7, 1916
A half dozen “connect up scenes” for the Casino club’s all-society photoplay were filmed yesterday in and about the Spaulding residence before J. Allen Haines, the super-director, took alarm at the appearance of newspaper men and began a wild auto race to get rid of them.
The unwanted scriveners and photogs stuck along, however, as cheerfully as if they had the R.S.V.P. and other credentials right in their pockets.
“Really, you know, I am not at all glad to see you,” inflected Mr. Haines in something of a pet. “Indeed, I can’t say that I am.”
However, the reporters chugged up to the suicide bridge in Lincoln park just as the company was about to put on the death struggle for the cinema. J. Allen Haines seemed even more hurt than ever to observe the literary bounders, and, placing his company back in the cabs, took them off to the Casino club, where inside work occupied the rest of the afternoon.
Chicago Tribune, May 13, 1916
The amateur movies is not all kisses and straw bricks. Two young members of a set that is sometimes called lackadaisical did a thriller yesterday.
John Wentworth and John McIlvaine performed the darevil act. It was a leap for life, in curious curcus languag, from “suicide bridge” in Lincoln park—a leap that many a man has taken simultaneously with a decion to take his life.
“Can’t Be Done.”
It was only after a heated protest with the movie director and after a professional “leaper” had said: “It can’t be done,” that the two young men wriggled off the high bridge into the cold lagoon below. Bith are members of the Casino club, and have the roles of two policemen in “Cousin Jim, or the Lost Fraternity Pin,” the society movie which is furnishing a pastime for young people of the north side.
Billy Fuller is “Cousin Jim.” The scenario permits him to emulate a college youth with a reckless jag. With the two policemen, the professional movie director, a professional swimmer, to act as double in the leap, and the camera man, he began, ast suicide bridge, a harrowing flight from the clutches of the law.
With silk hat, cream gloves, and malacca walking stick, he climbed the steel girders that hold up the bridge. The two movie policemen followed at a reckless pace.
Loses His Nerve.
The chase led to the opposite side of the lagoon, where “Cousin Jim” discovered the steps. He was caught at the top of the bridge, and the director called a temporary halt.
The professional swimmer mused:
- Umm, I’d like that $250, but it simply can’t be don. The water is only ten feet deep. I’m afraid.
The professional double retired. The director dragged a straw stuffed copper from the supply car. There was a struggle on the cement railing of the bridge, and the figure flopped down toward the water. But the picture was spoiled. The dummy floated.
“Say,” suggested young Wentworth. “This is our picture. If this drop is in the scenario we’re here to make it.”
The director gasped. The young men were obdurate. It was decided that the struggle and leap should made from the girder a few feet below the top of the bridge. A park squirrel sat on thebopposite girder.
“‘S a wise squirrel,” commented a man below. “Coupla nuts up there.”
A moment later the squirming body of McIlvaine was pusged from the girder and the camera was getting the wiggling, kicking legs of Wentworth as he feigned an attempt to stick on the bridge. He lost his hold and dropped.
There were two splashes, almost simultaneously. Two men swam to shore.
“Where in blank is my hat?” asked McIvaine, as he reached the shore. It had been washed off when he struck the water.
“We’ll change for the next scene,” remarked Wentworth, kicking off some of the mud of the lagoon’s bottom from his shoes.
Chicago Tribune, July 27, 1919
Drop a tear for Chicago’s bridge of sighs. The famous old Lincoln park arch, over which thousands of holiday merrymakers have passed on a single Sunday and where hundreds of weary mortals paused to think of death, is showing the rust of age. Suicide bridge seems doomed to go.
John C, Cannon, superintendent of Lincoln park explained:
- We blocked up the approaches, because the old bridge is no longer safe. When the board meets in October it will decide whether it is to be wrecked. I don’t think it ever will be used again.
A Place for Ghosts.
Meanwhile the ghosts of those resting sould who faltered at the guard rail, then leaped, continue to haunt the famous arch. Ever since it was built in 1892 the bridge has been a resting place for those who had a rendezvous with death. Disappointed men and girls who were crossed in love, s=despondent youths, and the old ladies from the streets—all have sought the mysteries of the beyond from its heights. One man hanged himself from its girders, but all the rest chose to jump.
“The fall and spring of the year are the suicide seasons,” said Charles Shaw, chief of the park police.
Then the reminiscences began. Lieut. Charles Thoren recalled the heartbroken young German woman who took the leadp, more than twenty years ago. It was midwinter and the bridge was frosted with ice. Not 200 feet away lay the lake, already booming a requiem for the girl hesitating at the rail. Then she jumped. They found her with her head in the ice, her feet pointing toward the sky.
He Leaps and Lives.
Sergt. Samuel Pincus told a less somber tale of the professional diver from Barnum & Bailey’s circus. He said:
- They came in carriages. That was before the day of automobiles—and got on the bridge before I knew what they were about. Then this circus person slips off his overcoat and dives into the lagoon.
I was stationed at the west end of the bridge, and Fred Schwindler—for Fred isn’t with us any more—is at the other. Well, the circus man swims to one bank of the lagoon, and here was I, ready to grab him. So he navigates to the other bank, where Fred was right on the job. Back he swims to my end, and then returns again. Finally he gets tired out and we haul him off to the Sheffield avenue station. I think they fined him $1, but that didn’t break Barnum’s heart.
Foils Half Dozen Suicides.
Joseph Langlois, who for eighteen years has patrolled the narrow stretch of ground between the lagoon and Lake Michigan, has rescued at least half a dozen would-be suicides from the waterway beneath the bridge. He has a boat moored ready for that purpose.
“The majority involve these love affairs,” he explained, in discussing why people wish to die. but he told of an old woman, 65 years old, who did not crave death because of Cupid:
- I found her standing on the brisge all by herself, and at her feet was a pint bottle of whisky that had slipped from her dress and broken on the cement. I asked her what it was for, and do you know, that poor old woman was going to use it to give her courage enough to jump. I felt sorry for that woman.
Saved by Wide Skirts.
In the old days when feminine dresses were full and wide many women were saved after suicidal leaps because of the air which caught under their skirts. More than one woman has yelled screaming from the other world, buoyed by the blimpy fashions of the day. More than one fair unfortunate has continued to live because circumstances bade her jump in 1899 instead of 1919.
But suicides have been on the decrease, until now there hasn’t been an attempt from the bridge in twelve months. Said Lieut. Thoren:
- For several years, it was a fad. There used to be as many as two suicides a week. About twenty years ago it got do bad the papers suggested covering the bridge with a screen, like a bird cage, and there was even some talk of closing it to the public.
The Whistling Madman.
Suicide bridge was not the rendezvous for the world-wearied only, however. Strange mortals used to frequent the place. One old woman was wont to seek the heights with a bottle of whisky and there proceed to intoxicate herself. A demented young man liked to come at night and whistle to the moon in a loud, weird tone. More than one member of the Lincoln park force owns having shivered with fright when that uncanny siren drilled suddenly through his ears.
Then there was an inmate of the old soldiers’ home in Milwaukee, who would visit the bridge every time he got a furlough and there sing martial songs at the top of his voice. And if you failed to stand at attention during his recital, he———
But all these episodes are things of yesteryear. The famous arch, which rises forty-two feet above the lagoon, is closed to the happy and forlorn alike, and the hand of death is upon it. Perhaps it will not even wait for the wrecker. It may heed the whispers of those restless ghosts and disappear, like the house of Usher, into the waters below.
Chicago Tribune, September 28, 1919
Man Plunges to Death on Closed Suicide Bridge.
The high bridge over the lagoon in Lincoln park, which since Germany lost the war has remained barricaded, was utilized last night by an unknown man. Scaling the barricade, he walked to the center and dived sixty feet, to die by drowning.
John Tomison, of 2260 Lincoln avenue, motoring along the outer drive, heard the splash and notified Policeman Edward Hadick. The body was recovered with grappling hooks and removed to an undertaking establishment at 2219 Lincoln avenue.
The man was poorly clad. The only mark of identification was on a handkerchief, the initials being “J.R.H.” He had a red mustache, He wore army shoes. He appeared to be about 40 years old.
Chicago Tribune, November 16. 1919
Worker on ‘Suicide Bridge’ Swept Into Lagoon; Saved
Frank Watts, 42 years old, 442 North La Salle street, an ironworker employed on the dismantling of the “suicide bridge” in Lincoln park, was swept away into the park lagoon yesterday by a derrick which struck him from behind. Patrolman William Stift of the Lincoln park force plunged into the lagoon and rescued him.
Lincoln Park High Bridge