The Central Park Reservoir’s suicide fence

The Central Park Reservoir (renamed for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in 1994) has always inspired New Yorkers—who gaze at it, jog around it, and got their water from it between 1862 to 1993, when it was deemed obsolete.

And on a grim note, many city residents were also inspired to jump the four-foot cast-iron fence around it and commit suicide.

That original fence “was sufficient to prevent anyone from accidentally falling into the reservoir, but did not prevent self-destruction,” a March 10, 1926 New York Times piece explained it gently.

“Few months pass that police of the Arsenal Station in the park are not called upon to make a report of death by drowning in the reservoir.”

As a result of all the suicides, city officials later that year put up a 10-foot chain link fence with barbed wire at the top.

[Photo at top right, from a 1999 City Review article; undated NYPL photo, above left ]

Sure it stopped people from hurling themselves into the water. But it was also ugly.

Calls were made for it to be taken down in the 1990s, but it wasn’t until 2003 that the Parks Department replaced it with a copy of the original 1862 fence—the one encircling the Reservoir today (above photo).

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8 Responses to “The Central Park Reservoir’s suicide fence”

  1. aidel Says:

    Is there a big drop off? It doesn’t look very fatal to me.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    none of the articles mentioned a drop-off. I don’t know why the reservoir was especially suited for suicide…unless people ruined by the city of New York in some way felt it was an appropriate way of telling the city to eff off?

  3. aidel Says:

    Although I don’t live in NY, I spend a fairly large amount of time there. As it happens, it is the *only* place in the world that I feel even a little sane. Just living in New York would give me reason enough to want to live. How ironic!

  4. jiji13 Says:

    I think the Reservoir is about 40 feet deep and yes, there is a sharp drop off. The fence was replace by the Central Park Conservancy, not the Parks department.

  5. Kaz Says:

    Reservoirs often have an undercurrent sufficient to cause the drowning death of anyone caught in it that isn’t strong enough – or doesn’t have the will – to fight it.

    Kids who couldn’t afford the public pool often hopped fences and swam in the reservoir (or maybe they were just rebels). It seemed like every summer heralded at least one death in one borough or another.

  6. Parnassus Says:

    You left us hanging–are there safety issues even with the duplicated fence? I also frankly wonder, since that was the “lawless ’20’s” if all those were actually suicides–with or without the fence, it hardly seems a dramatic leap to death.

  7. The suicide hotspot of an uptown el train station | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Central Park Reservoir was another suicide hotspot for New Yorkers in the first decades of the 20th […]

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