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Posted on 15 April 2011 | 10,096 views

October 1929 Stock Market Crash Suicides

One of the big questions people always have about the 1929 stock market crash is did investors really jump out of windows? When Wall Street took that tail spin, you had to stand in line to get a window to jump out of was what people of the time reported.

Even while the financial meltdown was in progress, reporters in downtown Manhattan were checking out a rumor that 11 busted “Brokers Had Jumped Out of Windows” and London newspapers gleefully told of pedestrians threading their way through the bodies of fallen speculators and legend has it that the cops dragged one poor guy off a ledge, only to discover that he was just a window washer.

Well, they probably did, but they probably didn’t, at least not on October 24, 1929 or the even more catastrophic “Black Tuesday“, October 29, 1929. No less an authority than economist John Kenneth Galbraith addressed the subject in his book The Great Crash, 1929, first published in 1955. Studying U.S. death statistics, Galbraith found that while the U.S. suicide rate increased steadily between 1925 and 1932, during October and November of 1929 the number of suicides was disappointingly low.

That’s not to say that a few failed investors, executives, etc., didn’t kill themselves in the wake of the crash. But the “Suicides” happened all around the country, didn’t necessarily involve jumping out the window, and for the most part didn’t take place immediately following the crash.

* On Friday, November 8, J.J. Riordan, president of the County Trust Company, took a pistol from a teller’s cage at his bank, went to his home in downtown Manhattan, and shot himself. The news was suppressed until after the bank closed at noon Saturday, to avoid causing a run on the bank.

* A vice president of the Earl Radio Corporation jumped to his death from the window of a Manhattan hotel. His suicide note read, “We are broke. Last April I was worth $100,000. Today I am $24,000 in the red.” But this happened in early October, weeks before the crash.

* Jesse Livermore, perhaps the most famous of the Wall Street speculators, shot himself–but not until 1940.

Several well-publicized suicides did fulfill the stereotype as with Winston Churchill, visiting New York, was awakened the day after Black Tuesday by the noise of a crowd outside the Savoy-Plaza Hotel. “Under my very window a gentleman cast himself down fifteen stories and was dashed to pieces, causing a wild commotion and the arrival of the fire brigade,” he wrote.

In 1929, asphyxiation by gas was the most common method of doing oneself in, although there was considerable variety like the ones below.

* The wife of a Long Island broker shot herself in the heart.

* A utilities executive in Rochester, New York, shut himself in his bathroom and opened a wall jet of illuminating gas.

* A St. Louis broker swallowed poison; a Philadelphia financier shot himself in his athletic club.

* A divorcee in Allentown, Pennsylvania, closed the doors and windows of her home and turned on a gas oven.

* In Milwaukee, one gentleman who took his own life left a note that read, “My body should go to science, my soul to Andrew W. Mellon, and sympathy to my creditors.”

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