John William Warde
John William Warde was a twenty-six-year-old native of Southampton, New York who committed suicide on July 26, 1938. He leaped from a window ledge of the seventeenth floor of the Gotham Hotel at 5th Avenue and 55th Street in Manhattan. The son of a Long Island express agent, his eleven-hour dilemma before jumping held three hundred New York City Police Department officers at bay. They were afraid of making a move.
Warde earlier had become upset by a remark made by his sister while he was sitting with a group of people in a 17th-floor room of the hotel. He dashed for a window and then occupied the ledge, balancing there from morning until late in the evening.
Chronology of death
Four hundred police officers and NYPD personnel responded to the emergency together with members of the Fire Department and volunteer helpers. Psychiatrist J. C. Presner was called by hotel management to make a plea to Warde, who was believed to be clinically depressed. Presner dropped tablets in the water which was being handed to Warde, which he hoped would help a person suffering from melancholia. Unfortunately the medicine did not work.
Policeman Charles V. Glasco attempted to persuade Warde not to jump by talking to him on and off for hours. They discussed baseball, ping pong and picnics, among other subjects. Glasco eventually stripped off his uniform coat, police shield and pistol belt. He impersonated a bellhop who proclaimed he would lose his job if Warde jumped. Glasco had nearly convinced Warde to come in and most likely would have, but a photographer ran into the room (it is not known how he was able to enter) and attempted to take a picture. This caused Warde to jump. This deeply upset and angered Glasco because if not for this photographer, Warde likely wouldn't have jumped. During Glasco's time with Warde, Warde had disclosed a secret which Glasco did not disclose to anyone for as long as he lived, in accordance with his promise. It is unclear what this secret was or if it had any correlation to his suicide.
Warde eventually leaped feet first at 10:38 P.M., crashing into the glass marquee of the 55th Street entrance of the Gotham Hotel. His body smashed to the sidewalk. When he jumped, ten thousand people were gathered at the busy intersection of 55th Street and Fifth Avenue. Collectively they shouted, “Here he comes!” prior to becoming silent at the moment Warde made his plunge.
Warde was buried in Cemetery of the Evergreens, Brooklyn following a private funeral service at the New York and Brooklyn Funeral Home, located at 187 South Oxford Street in Brooklyn. His parents and two friends were present at the service. The service was pushed ahead four hours from a previously arranged time so as to avoid crowds.
Writer Joel Sayre wrote about the Warde suicide in The New Yorker, in an article entitled “That Was New York: The Man on the Ledge,” which was published on April 16, 1949. The story was purchased by Twentieth Century Fox.
The Sayre article was adapted by Fox into the 1951 film Fourteen Hours, with Richard Basehart as the man on the ledge and Paul Douglas as the police officer who tries to talk him out of jumping. As originally shot, the film ended as in reality, with the man jumping to his death. After a preview, this was changed to end with him falling accidentally and grabbing the net to save his life.
The studio changed the title from The Man on the Ledge to Fourteen Hours at the request of Warde's mother, so that the picture would not be as closely identified with her son. Studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck considered changing the setting of the movie to another city for the same reason, but it was ultimately filmed in New York.
- New York Times Gotham Hotel, now Peninsula New York
- Window Ledge Sitter Leaps To Death, A Century of Journalism, New York Post, Volume III, pp. 62 - 72.
- Is Life Worth Living?, New York Times, July 28, 1938, pg. 18.
- Throngs In 5th Ave. View Scene Of Leap, New York Times, July 28, 1938, pg. 4.
- Warde Burial Advanced, New York Times, July 30, 1938, pg. 28.
- Smith, Richard Harland. "Fourteen Hours". TCM website. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2009-03-22.
- "Notes for Fourteen Hours (1951)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2009-03-21.