Skip to main content

John William Warde: A Leap into Eternity



It's impossible to imagine what thoughts were going through John Warde's head as he leaped to his death from the seventeenth floor of the Gotham Hotel on July 27, 1938, but it's safe to assume that he never thought his spectacular demise-- caught on camera by dozens of reporters-- would catapult him to national celebrity. But that's what happened.



What makes John Warde's death so remarkable is that it occurred during the height of newspaper sensationalism, when fedora-clad photographers went to great lengths to get the shot they wanted, no matter how shocking or distasteful. After all, this was the tail end of the Great Depression and newspapers across the nation were shutting their doors and shuttering their windows. Those who survived lived by the simple mantra: sell newspapers, no matter what it takes.



John Warde wasn't the first person to commit suicide by jumping from a New York skyscraper and he certainly wasn't the last. But he was probably the only suicide victim whose entire ordeal, from the ledge to the sidewalk, was caught on camera and distributed en masse for the entire nation to see, in all its gruesome glory.

Warde on his way to his death


John William Warde was a 26-year-old unemployed bank teller who endured nearly eleven hours perched on a narrow ledge contemplating his fate. Crowds of thousands gathered around the Gotham Hotel. They watched from the street, from the tops of buses and cars, from the windows and rooftops of neighboring buildings. Some of them called up to the despondent bank teller in an attempt to dissuade him from jumping; others shouted for him to leap. Some cried; others cracked jokes.

Warde's body, a millisecond before hitting the ground


"With the coming of night he had become a pale blur as darkness crept up the limestone wall of the Hotel Gotham, Fifth Avenue and Fiftieth Street, a blur sometimes lost in the gloom, sometimes faintly picked out by the spark of a freshly lighted cigarette."

Police commandeered a cargo net they had borrowed from a ship and attempted to hoist it up the building, but all the devices and contraptions the police and fire departments could think of had failed. His mother and sister appealed to Warde from an adjacent window. So did a priest and a several psychiatrists. But it was to no avail.



"The pale blur detached itself from the gloom high above. A horrified gasp, then a scream from the crowd, and Warde plunged to his death."

In death, John William Warde obtained the fame he never attained in life. A camera crew filmed his leap, making Warde's death the first televised suicide, while Fox adapted Warde's ordeal into the 1951 film Fourteen Hours, with Richard Basehart playing the role of the despondent bank teller. Of course, the film has a classic Hollywood ending, with Basehart's character grabbing a net to save his life.

Popular posts from this blog

Jenny Hanivers, Mermaids, Devil Fish, and Sea Monks

Three centuries before P.T. Barnum attracted flocks of crowds with his mummified Fiji Mermaid (which turned out to be a papier-mâché creation featuring a monkey's head and a fish's body), sailors around the world had already began manufacturing "mermaids".  Known as Jenny Hanivers, these creations were often sold to tourists and provided sailors with an additional source of income.  These mummified creatures were produced by drying, carving, and then varnishing the carcasses of fish belonging to the order rajiformes- a group of flattened cartilaginous fish related to the shark which includes stingrays and skates.  These preserved carcasses can be made to resemble mermaids, dragons, angels, demons, and other mythical creatures.


Jenny Hanivers became popular in the mid-16th century, when sailors around the Antwerp docks began selling the novelties to tourists.  This practice was so common  in the Belgian city that it may have influenced the name; it is widely believed …

The Roberto Clemente death conspiracy

Was the Hall of Fame baseball star assassinated by the CIA?



From the Sandy Hook school shooting to the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight 370, it seems that every tragedy in recent times is accompanied by a slew of conspiracy theories. Yet history is filled with events that would be enshrouded in conspiracy theories if they happened today. One such event is the plane crash that killed baseball Hall-of-Famer and Pittsburgh Pirates legend Roberto Clemente on December 31, 1972.

Most of us are familiar with the story: Clemente, playing the role of humanitarian, decides to accompany a flight of emergency aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua, after the victims claim that the corrupt military dictator, Anastasio Somoza, was preventing the much-needed emergency supplies from getting into the hands of earthquake survivors. The rickety plane goes down off the coast of  Isla Verde, Puerto Rico, immediately after takeoff. Strangely, Clemente's body is never found.

This story has all t…

The Incest Capital of the World?

At the far eastern edge of Kentucky, nestled in Appalachia, resides Letcher County. In spite of its isolation and poverty (approximately 30% of the county's population lives below the poverty line), Letcher County has managed to grow at an impressive rate, from a population of just 9,172 in 1900 to a present-day population of nearly 25,000. However, even if Letcher County tripled or quadrupled its present population, there's still a pretty good chance that virtually all of the county's inhabitants would be related to each other-- thanks to one particularly fertile family whose astounding rate of reproduction can put even the friskiest rabbit to shame.

Around the year 1900, Letcher County was the home of a man by the name of Jason L. Webb, who made national headlines for having the one of the largest families in the world. According to newspaper reports of the era, Jason had 19 children, 175 grandchildren, and 100 great-grandchildren. Perhaps even more impressive was his br…