Self-Destruction in the Promised Land: A Psychocultural Biology of American Suicide

Self-Destruction in the Promised Land: A Psychocultural Biology of American Suicide

Self-Destruction in the Promised Land: A Psychocultural Biology of American Suicide

Self-Destruction in the Promised Land: A Psychocultural Biology of American Suicide

Excerpt

Late one November afternoon in 1893, while hunting in a canyon in the outskirts of San Diego, Edward Grenville discovered the body of a neatly dressed young man. The dead man's outstretched fight hand held a revolver. When the coroner later examined the corpse, he "found that one cartridge had been exploded, and a hole in the fight temple showed where the bullet had gone." The victim's pockets contained "a silver watch, twenty cents in change, a tin-type picture of the young man, and a pocket-book containing visiting cards bearing the name 'M. E. White.'" White's pockets also yielded a library card and a slip of paper with the names of several local firms. Alongside each name White had written notations such as "come again," and "favorable." Mr. W. E. Howard, whose name appeared on the list, identified White's body as that of a man who had applied unsuccessfully for work at two o'clock on the day of the suicide. Howard "remembered that the applicant was slightly cross-eyed." The coroner concluded that "from the condition of his hands and the fact that shorthand writing was in his papers, he [White] was unused to hard work."

Max White was only one of many suicides reported by American newspapers in 1893. Often the press and other experts tied what they perceived as an increase in the incidence of suicide to the Depression of 1893, the most severe economic downturn in America's experience until that time. Several months before White's death, the editors of The San Diego Union, fearing a suicide epidemic, published a long editorial warning that "suicide has become so frequent as to attract little attention. Day after day the rehearsal of these crimes goes on in the daily press, and," The Union feared, "the horror, which such acts should produce, is giving way to indifference, or a . . .

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