A reception will be held Thursday night to promote an art exhibit in San Francisco's Presidio that consists of shoes meant to represent the hundreds of lives lost to suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge.
The exhibit, titled "Whose Shoes?," aims to draw attention to the number of suicides that occur on the bridge. Some of the shoes in the exhibit belonged to suicide victims and were donated by family members; others are not victims' shoes but were brought by volunteers for the project.
"What the exhibit does is dramatically represent the grief and pain and shock of a suicide," said David Hull, president of the nonprofit Bridge Rail Foundation.
The foundation was initially formed to advocate raising the rail along the bridge's pedestrian access areas, but now focuses on public education activities to prevent suicides.
Hull, whose daughter committed suicide by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge, said the impact of suicide "goes far beyond the person lost. It impacts a number of people, and part of the function of the exhibit is to represent that loss."
There have been more than 1,300 confirmed deaths, along with many unconfirmed ones, since the bridge opened in 1937.
The Marin County coroner's office reported in January that at least 34 people took their own lives in 2008 by jumping from the bridge. David Foehner, an investigator with the coroner's office, said there have been at least two more suicides already this year.
In October, the bridge district approved the installation of a net below the bridge to prevent suicides.
The foundation put together a similar exhibit in Crissy Field in September and participated in a walk called "Out of the Darkness" sponsored by the Northern California chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Hull said that through the shoe exhibit and other outreach efforts, he hopes that "the age-old misunderstanding of suicide as inevitable is fading under new empirical data that proves that most suicides are, in fact, preventable."
He cited a 1978 study by Richard Seiden of University of California at Berkeley that found that since the bridge opened, of all the people who had attempted suicide but were stopped or survived the fall from the bridge, 94 percent were still alive or had died of natural causes.
The exhibit, which is free to the public, opened on Feb. 19 and will remain until April 16, according to the foundation.
Thursday night's reception will take place at 7 p.m. at the Thoreau Center for Sustainability at Presidio Building 1014 near the intersection of Lincoln Boulevard and Torney Avenue.