3 San Franciscans Who Died in Bizarre Ways
There has been an onslaught of articles in the press recently claiming that there is an exodus from San Francisco, a gold rush in reverse, as it were. While I’m skeptical that this trend is real, those articles seem to neglect the unique character and trailblazing nature of San Franciscans. I’m in no way advocating suicide, but people from The City have a history of exiting San Francisco (and the earthly plane) with flair and style. If you think you’re cool because you’re taking your fintech startup from Emeryville to Austin and bragging about it to credulous reporters, perhaps weigh your accomplishments against these counter examples.
Aviation pioneer Lincoln Beachey was incredibly famous for someone who most people haven’t heard of today. By 1915, nearly a quarter of the population of the U.S. had seen him perform his aerial stunts which included death-defying acts such as flying through a building, flying under a bridge, and flying down into the chasm of Niagara Falls. He was the first to perform a loop and discovered how to recover from an uncontrolled spin. All of which he did while strapped into a machine that looked like a mountain bike had mated with a pirate ship.
He was a larger-than-life character as well. He quit flying for a time after too many pilots had died while attempting his tricks. He started flying again, only to sweep a few spectators from a roof with his wing, killing one woman. He had other ways of sweeping women off their feet too, reportedly carrying an engagement ring in his pocket and offering it to attractive spectators.
In 1915, San Francisco was celebrating the Pan American Expo, which brought the city many of its enduring monuments. Beachey went all out for the expo. He had a replica of an actual battleship and anchored it offshore. He wired it to explode and flew over it with a smoking “bomb” that set off the explosives. People on the shore reportedly believed that the crew was still on the ship and some fainted. Later on, in front of a crowd of up to 250,000 people, Beachey’s wings collapsed during a loop and he crashed into the San Francisco Bay. He would have likely survived, but was unable to release his harness and drowned.
Jimmy “The Beard” Ferrozzo
If you’re going to go, why not go doing what you love? In the case of James Ferrozzo, what he loved was banging his 20-years-younger girlfriend on top of the piano at the Condor Club. James was a bouncer at the club. His nickname was Jimmy “The Beard”, and he worked at a club owned by a guy named Lucky Lucchesi, so one might believe that he didn’t think he’d be going out quite the way he did…which was being crushed to death while having sex on a piano.
The thing is, the piano was famously rigged to descend from the ceiling, often carrying a scantily clad Carol Doda, seen above in front of the Condor’s piano. Everything that goes down must also come back up, and at some point during their passionate interlude, either James or his paramour – exotic dancer Theresa Hill – triggered the switch that carried the piano to the ceiling.
I don’t know about you, but I generally notice when the piano I’m having sex on starts rising up in the air. Perhaps I’ve never known such joy as was being experienced at that moment by Ferrozzo and Hill. Whatever the reason, Jimmy the Beard ended up crushed by the ceiling, and Theresa Hill was only saved by the girth of her companion.
By the time Alfred Rhodes made his final leap from the Golden Gate Bridge, at least 90 people had leaped to their death from the great orange colossus. Dusty had the distinction of being the first one who intended to survive. Dusty seems like the sort of character who would be ripe for an archly ironic biopic these days. He was a movie stuntman who had lost two fingers filming Howard Hawk’s “Scarface” and who went by the porn-adjacent moniker Dusty Rhodes. His IMDB page lists a credit as “Cisco Rider” in a movie called The Gay Cavalier, which might be one of the most SF movie credits of all time.
In 1948, he was estranged from his wife and worried about career opportunities. He decided that a leap from the Golden Gate bridge would win his wife back and kick-start his career. He’d applied for a permit from The City for his stunt, but was turned down. Nonetheless, he proceeded to prepare for the big jump. He got his friend to agree to film him, and he persuaded his wife to come watch. On Feb 7th, one week before Valentine’s Day, he suited up with a crash helmet, hip pads, a rubber suit and a life preserver. It’s unclear if he abandoned the fifty-pound shoes he was planning to wear to keep him falling feet down because he was fleeing the police on the bridge or because he decided against it earlier.
Everything went wrong from the start. The scene is immortalized in the above dynamic illustration from the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph. Someone tried to grab him to stop him from jumping, but only managed to disable two of Dusty’s three parachutes. The remaining parachute opened, but the parachutes were small and meant to stabilize his descent, not slow him entirely. Everyone watched, including his wife, as he tumbled face down into the depths below and died. The film that was shot was only shown to the coroner, who ruled his death an accidental death by drowning.
So, all of you thinking to exit San Francisco for somewhere new and not as exciting, whether it be a five-bedroom mansion in Boise or or a cryptocurrency haven in Costa Rica, remember that these visionaries probably did it better than you.