Cops Rush to Aid Empire State "Jumper," Turns Out He's a Statue

NYers trained to "say something" if they "see something" -- just not in this case

By Jennifer Millman and Melissa Russo
|  Thursday, Apr 15, 2010  |  Updated 7:20 PM EDT
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Sculpture leaves little to the imagination.

Sculpture leaves little to the imagination.

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They warned us this would happen.

Police raced to the Empire State Building yesterday after a frightened 911 caller saw what appeared to be a person poised on the ledge, preparing to jump, according to a published report.

Once they arrived, they realized the possible jumper was only a statue – one of the cast-iron life-size figures modeled in the form of an artist whose "Event Horizon" exhibit has sparked a flurry of 911 calls from passersby who mistake the statues for possible suicide risks.

The presence of the statues dumbfounds some workers and tourists, particularly at the Empire State Building, from which half a dozen people have plunged to their deaths over the last 10 years. Just last month, a Yale grad student became the latest to leap to his demise from the observation deck.

Even before the first statue was displayed, city officials alerted cops that the outdoor exhibit could rattle passersby who mistook the cast-iron figures for jumpers. And the NYPD was diligent about relaying that caution to city residents.

But New Yorkers have been taught to say something if they see something – and that's what they've been doing. 

Chief NYPD spokesman Paul Browne told The New York Post the department has only received about 10 emergency calls related to the statues, but other sources insisted they happen more regularly.

At his Q&A Thursday, Mayor Bloomberg said the statue should not be taken down from the Empire State because it draws tourists and is "great."

 "This guy's art is interesting," said Bloomberg, who also blamed the media.

"If your arts section really writes the story about this, then people will know that it's great art, including our police department," the mayor told reporters -- despite the fact that the initial installation got significant coverage from various outlets, including here and here.

Frustrated police sources told the Post the 911 calls on "suicidal statues" not only distract them from responding to real emergencies, but also delay their response time because they've become accustomed to the false alarms.

Anthony Malkin, head of the Empire State building's management group, told the Post he has no plans to remove the statue, despite the building's chilling association with suicides. He told the paper the NYPD OK'd the project, and unless the city requests the statue be taken down, "it's our intention to leave it up."

The work by British artist Antony Gormley consists of 31 life-size figures of the artist's body cast in iron and glass fiber. The sculptures were installed on pathways, sidewalks and rooftops of buildings surrounding Madison Square Park for an exhibit running March 26 through August 15.

Sara Fitzmaurice, a spokeswoman for the Madison Square Park Conservancy, which is sponsoring the installation, said at the time it was unlikely the work would lead to confusion by the public.

"We feel very confident that New Yorkers and others that are in the area will understand that these are sculptures," she said.

But some early viewers were alarmed by the human figures peering over the rooftops.

Emilia John and Celeste Washington work in the area.
 
"It's a nude guy!" exclaimed John. "Kids are in the park all the time. They should take it down."
 
Her co-worker was calmer.
 
"I think it could stay. It looks good," said Washington. "It's art. It's an attempt at art."

Gormley created the installation for a show in London in 2007 and scouted locations for the New York version.

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