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I think the tales of Wall Street financiers plunging to their deaths in 1929 are probably well known.

Hudsucker The Hudsucker Proxy

From Random Facts - The Great Depression:

After the initial crash, there was a wave of suicides in the New York’s financial district.
It is said that the clerks of one hotel even started asking new guests if they needed a room for sleeping or jumping. 1

1. Feinstein, Stephen. 2006. The 1930s: From the Great Depression to the Wizard of Oz.
Revised Ed. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, Inc.

But according to John Kenneth Galbraith's The Great Crash, 1929 this is a myth.

In the wake of Black Thursday London newspapers reported that ruined speculators were throwing themselves from windows, but Galbraith asserts there was no substance to these claims of widespread suicides.

My Questions:

  • Was there a crash related wave of suicides in New York City?
  • Was there a high(er) number of people plunging to their deaths?
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I bet my 2 cents it's a myth. (Just my 2 cents.) –  muntoo Jun 23 '12 at 4:50

1 Answer 1

up vote 12 down vote accepted

The heavy lifting has been done by The Straight Dope.

To start with, let's look at the quality of your two conflicting sources. One is a respected academic book by a world-class economist. The other is a website that by admission devotes itself to "random facts and trivia". Guess which is going to be more reliable. Interestingly Galbraith's book is one of the main sources used by The Straight Dope.

Let's pull some summary quotes from The Straight Dope:

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. [...] In 1929: The Year of the Great Crash (1989) historian William K. Klingaman says asphyxiation by gas was the most common method of doing oneself in, although there was considerable variety.

Several well-publicized suicides did fulfill the stereotype. 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 storeys and was dashed to pieces, causing a wild commotion and the arrival of the fire brigade," he wrote.

In defense of Randomfacts, it is entirely possible that a few notable jumpers would have been reported as 'a wave' in contemporary sources, but would not make a significant difference to suicide statistics.

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In RandomFacts's defense, they do list the source of every fact they cite. –  Oliver_C Jun 23 '12 at 18:13
6  
@DJClayworth Its an independent verification issue, not the reliability of the source, imagine a question "John says 2+2=4 is this true?" with an answer "Yes, Bill says according to John 2+2=4." Focusing on other sources more would be beneficial because it validates your answer without circular logic. –  Ryathal Jun 25 '12 at 21:27
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"One is a respected academic book by a world-class economist." -- Appeal to authority much? –  Russell Steen Jun 26 '12 at 1:46
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@DJClayworth -- Me not answering (or answering) does not make your appeal to authority more valid. –  Russell Steen Jun 26 '12 at 3:25
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@RussellSteen So to be clear, you are objecting to me using Galbraith as a source why? Because he's too respected? Because he's too well known? Because he's an academic? Because he actually studied the US death statistics and reached a conclusion? –  DJClayworth Jun 26 '12 at 13:54

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