by M.P. Pellicer | Stranger Than Fiction Stories
In the first days of September, 2017, Aaron Mitchell, a 41-year-old man was attending the Burning Man Festival held in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. Despite the security measures surrounding a blazing fire, he succeeded in immolating himself by running into the flames of a wooden man effigy which is part of the annual festivities.
There are those that commit suicide based on opportunity, but there are others that choose a specific location, or event when they've decided to make the moment they end their life a part of a specific ritual.
It's reported that there are two forms of “suicide tourism.” (The other involves traveling to a country where euthanasia or assisted suicide is legal.) A person decides to die in a specific place, often an impressive bridge, a natural wonder, a spiritual location, or a famous building. Some of these “suicide shrines” acquire reputations as suicide magnets. Among them are the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the London Underground, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Australia’s Gap Park, Britain’s Beachy Head cliffs, Japan’s Aokigahara Woods, either side of Niagara Falls, and the Empire State Building.
In 2003, Kirk Jones, an unemployed Canton, Michigan auto parts salesman, survived going over Niagara Falls. It was a 173-foot fall that he took wearing only his clothes. He was 40 years old, and the first person to survive an attempt of this type without protection. He took the jump from Horseshoe Falls that straddles the U.S.-Canada border. He bruised his spine and broke some ribs.
Alice Cooper put him up in a Niagara Falls hotel after he was released from spending three days in a court-ordered psychiatry ward. For his troubles, Alice got a bill of several thousand dollars after Jones invited friends from Michigan to share in his good fortune.
Initially Jones told reporters he was trying to kill himself. His family told a different version, claiming he planned it as a daredevil stunt to garner fame and fortune.
After being fined $3000, he told reporters, "I'm feeling very happy to be alive, I ask that no one ever try such a terrible stunt again. I understand what I did was wrong. You'll never see an action in Niagara waters with my name written on it again."
Jones joined a Florida-based circus soon after his plunge, using his fame to get a job as a stunt performer. The circus closed down three months later, and a planned memoir tentatively titled, You’re Kidding Me: A Knucklehead’s Guide to Surviving Niagara Falls, never got written.
The first daredevil to survive going over the falls was Annie Taylor, 63, who chose her birthday in 1901, to go over inside a barrel padded with a mattress.
In the years that followed, Jones' family moved to Oregon, and he went there as well since his parents had always been his source of income. His father died in 2007, and in 2008, Jones and his brother Keith were charged with selling cocaine. Keith already had a criminal past for similar offenses, and Jones got probation, but landed in jail when he didn't finish his community service.
In 2011, Jones along with his brother moved his mother to Florida in violation of his probation. In 2014, his brother Keith, 56, passed away. His mother, Doris, followed the next year.
He tried to remedy his situation by marrying Holly Marion when he was 40 years old, but the relationship ended quickly. He found himself with no family, little money and even fewer options.
Fourteen years after his first jump, Jones returned to Niagara Falls, but this time he brought his pet Misty, a 7-foot, albino boa constrictor along for the ride. He was successful; if ending your life can be described as a success.
His body was found by a fisherman in the Niagara River at the mouth of Lake Ontario, 12 miles from where he jumped. This was two weeks after police responded to a report of a 10-foot "spinning ball" going over the rapids. They sent out a Maid of the Mist boat, and found only the empty ball.
He may have gotten the inspiration of going over inside an inflatable ball from Bill Fitzgerald, who had the same bright idea in 1961. It worked for Fitzgerald who walked away from the stunt unhurt.
The day after the inflatable ball was found, the drone which had crashed was also found, with little or no footage. Next was Jones' minivan with an empty snake cage inside.
There's no one to say if even got in the ball, or had fallen or jumped out.
It seems that Jones believed he might survive, and had planned to film the event from a drone that was controlled with a device on his wrist.
Police later found a website where he planned to sell t-shirts that read, "Believe in the impossible. KIRK JONES + MISTY conquer Niagara Falls NY 2017."
His family did not claim his remains, therefore they remained frozen in the Erie County Morgue until December 2020, when he was placed in a donated Oakwood Cemetery plot alongside five other Niagara Falls dare devils. One of them is Annie Taylor who died broke in 1921, at the age of 82, despite her bid for fame and fortune
For those of you wondering; Misty the snake was never found.
It all started on January 7, 1933, when two Tokyo school girls, Mieko Ueki and Kiyoko Matsumoto leapt into the crater at Mount Mihara on Oshima Island, 50 miles southwest of Tokyo. The crater's sheer sides dropped down a thousand feet, and the bottom was hidden in flames and vapor.
The girls attended Jissen Girls Higher School. It was one of the most prestigious school in Tokyo. First Mieko wrote a farewell poem to Masako, confessing to having planned the immolation since the year before. Masako tried to convince her to change her mind. Mieko remained steadfast in her mission to kill herself, made her friend promise to keep her death a secret for five years. However Masako did not keep the vow, and by breaking it, some believed a jinx was cast over the volcano.
Masako returned to the school, but eventually told another school girl named Kiyoko Matsumoto. Kiyoko had no sooner heard the story then she insisted that she wanted to follow in the other girl's footsteps. She threatened Masako that if she did not guide her to Mount Mihara she would tell everyone of the secret of Mieko's death. On February 11, Kiyoko jumped in.
On her trip back down, police stopped Masako because some remembered seeing two girls go up the volcano, but only one returned. Masako told the story to the authorities, which was picked up by the newspapers. Masako was hounded by newspapermen until she became ill and died in May, after going hopelessly insane.
During the next three months 55 girls and young men, all under the age of 28, most of them teenagers, came to the volcano crater to end their life. On May 8, a total of six persons made the fatal plunge on that one day. One young man even jumped in after someone threw out a dare.
The police had prevented 150 other persons from reaching the rim of the volcano.
By the end of the year, the authorities believed the number had risen to 300, believing that many had snuck by the police.
Prior to this Kegon waterfalls used to be the favorite spot for suicides in Japan.
In 1998, a German psychologist Heide Fittkau-Garthe was charged with "inducement to suicide" for her part in leading a doomsday cult named the Isis Holistic Center. The group had splintered from the Order of the Solar Temple, a Swiss-based sect known for group suicides. She had planned a "last supper" for herself and her 32 followers in a chalet on the island of Tenerife.
Poisons were found in her home, and it was believed the group planned a mass suicide since they thought the world was about to end on January 8, 1998. Supposedly a spaceship would take their souls from the summit of the Teide volcano and transport them to a new world.
All the cult members were German with the exception of one woman who was Spanish. There were five children in the group.
According to Angela Gabriela a former member of the sect, the highlight of the ritual was the "love ring". This practice consisted of huge orgies, even between members of the same family.
Fittaku-Garthe denied the accusations, and eventually the charges were dropped.
Mount Teide is the third largest volcano in the world, and the aboriginal Guanches believed the mountain to be a place where evil dwelt, and Guayota usually represented as a black dog, accompanied by a host of demons lived there.
In 2017, Leo Adonis (born Gregory Michael Ure), 38, leapt to his death at the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii. In a backpack left on the rim of the volcano, a suicide note was found.
In 2014, John Christopher Wallace, 30, jumped into a ceremonial fire at the Element 11 festival in Utah, which is their version of the Burning Man festival. Apparently Wallace had told several people throughout the day what he planned to do.
In 2019, Kiwi Shane Billingham, 33, from New Zealand was found unresponsive in his van at the Burning Man gathering in the Black Rock Desert. According to the medical examiner he had a concentration of carbon monoxide in his blood "that would be poisonous to human life." There was also a presence of controlled substances in his blood that likely exacerbated the carbon monoxide poisoning, according to a toxicology report.
In 2018, a troubling trend was discovered which is the high rate of suicide among Burning Man employees. Between 2009 and 2015, 7 out of 1000 employees killed themselves, in excess of the national average. According to Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas, a psychologist and the lead of the Workplace Task Force for the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention said, "To give you a benchmark, in a community of 1,000 people we would expect one suicide death in one decade."
Ridge Arterburn who worked at the festival from 2007 to 2014 said, "that the unique conditions and experiences of working on the playa lead to unique personalities being attracted to the event — the kinds of people who might not fit in elsewhere in society. "
Another long time worker Romero described where in the span of 12 months (2013 to 2014) there were 3 suicides.
In 2022, the Burning Man festival is scheduled to run from August 28 to September 5, and it is the first official gathering since the Covid scare.
The Empire State Building, built in 1931, has witnessed the suicide of 36 people, including 17 from the 86th-floor Observation Deck where Evelyn McHale jumped in 1947.
She was 1 of 5 persons in a 3-week period to attempt suicide from this particular spot. A 10-foot mesh fence was set up and guards to trained to spot possible jumpers.
Cut off from the observation deck, people jumped from other parts of the building, usually from office windows.
Sometimes it's not the spot itself but the media attention given to certain events. For a person who has a feeling of being a nonentity, they pursue an instant where they are not invisible anymore.
Unfortunately some of these spots develop a morbid romanticism built around stories of prior suicides. In some cases the location is guaranteed to end in death. Others see the act as joining a community comprised of those who ended their life in the same location. In some cases, the act itself is a portal to another plane.
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Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer