Charles Fischer [no relation to your blogger] arrived in New York City in 1890. A well-educated clerk from Stuttgart, Germany, he struggled in America, failing in real estate, in the saloon business, and finally in china plate decorating. He divorced and lost touch with his only child. Fischer wrote his mother, “I cannot stand this much longer. If I don’t get work within two weeks I will have to go out on the street and work as a laborer.” At 10:00 pm on a Saturday evening in 1896, he entered his small rented room on East 3rd Street, sealed up every crack, and turned on the gas without lighting it.
Fischer’s suicide puts into historical context news reports from this past week of a “startling” (to quote the PBS Newshour) rise in suicides among the middle-aged over the last ten years. (Actually, it’s not such new news; essentially the same story was reported three years ago.) Fischer’s case illustrates that suicides often come in waves – his was one of many committed by immigrants in late 19th-century American cities. It also illustrates the role of technology – gas became a common tool of suicide. And it illustrates the importance of financial strains – he took his life in the middle of the Panic of 1896. The 21st-century suicide spurt has an additional twist, however: Boomers.