Man Who Commits Suicide at Harvard Leaves 1,905 Page Suicide Note Online

From the Cambridge Chronicle:

A Somerville man not affiliated with Harvard University fatally shot himself in the yard this past Saturday at about 10:50 a.m., authorities said. No foul play is suspected.

The Harvard Crimson identified the man as 35-year-old Somerville resident Mitchell Heisman who posted a 1,905-page document on suicidenote.info, a website he created, arguing history, politics, religion and death. His mother reportedly told the Crimson to publish his name to let people know of his work “because that’s what he wanted.” She said he worked on his book in Harvard libraries and from his Craigie Street home. She also told the Crimson he seemed happy to be finishing his work.

Friend Jared Nathanson said he and about 400 others received an automated e-mail from Heisman on Sept. 18 at 4 p.m. containing a link to his site with the book attached. “Several of us wrote responses trying to dissuade him, not knowing it was too late,” he said. “I am deeply saddened and surprised by his death.”

The incident took place at about 11 a.m. Sept. 18 when Harvard Police received a call about a shooting outside Memorial Church, and responded to find a man with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head, lying in a pool of blood. A silver revolver was found near the body, and a bullet was found lodged in a nearby column, according to the police report.

I tried reading some of it. It really could have used an abstract.

29 comments

  1. “I am deeply saddened and surprised by his death.”
    Um, saddened, sure. Surprised? Let’s see:
    He created a website called “suicidenote.info” and proceeded to write a 1905 page suicide note. None of his friends thought to ask, “Hey, Mitchell! Your web site’s looking a little gloomy.”?

    1. (Ed. Deleted. I have no idea if you’re really a friend of Mitch but threats of violence, implied or otherwise, get deleted.)

      1. I’m sorry, where did I threaten violence? Possibly infer. Yes. The real violence is in the petty way that people react to these matters. The snap judgments that people make from reading a few words. You’ll have to forgive me for getting upset when someone tells you that you all should have known that your friend was going to kill himself. That’s a real knife in all our guts. Did I know Mitch? Yes I did. None of us had any idea that this was his plan. It’s very sad. What I’m learning most form this situation is how distasteful people can be. How judgmental. I probably have done the same. In the future, I’m really going to remember this and try to be more generous in my judgement.

      2. I guess most people decide if you have 400 or so actual friends that someone might have been close enough to read him or listen and care about him not killing himself, but the link to the site was mailed out the afternoon after he had already committed the act, so if he was working on a private project and seemed mostly content at it, I can see no reason any one of these people would necessarily have noticed that he was suicidal. 400 people indicates a lot of acquaintances and possibly some close, close friends, but maybe none.

        I think he is getting the reaction he wanted, although not around to get any satisfaction out of it. It is not uncommon for people to give off clues, but not everyone is sensitive to them, and it’s easy enough to ignore someone who is being subtle or secretive, especially if you don’t know them that well, or avoid getting close to them because they’re kind of weird and say weird things. Imagine it to like bombing a building or some other crime with a long planning phase. I think he wanted people to be shocked or otherwise he would have been prevented from carrying it out. I do think if someone perceives that most everyone considers him something of a failure (which may just be his delusion or self-assessment), being caught planning his own grand suicide and prevented would have meant another failure to him, so of course nobody saw his website in advance or took him seriously. He may earlier on even tried to get help but wasn’t taken seriously, then he didn’t commit suicide (cry wolf) and seemed content writing and researching his book for a long time, and nobody sensed he was happily plotting a dramatic exit. He could have done it earlier, without writing a book, quietly take away his own sadness, but that would have been defeat for him as well, crushing under meekly and not some blazing triumph. I would not necessarily blame any of his friends from not reading his social cues, for he likely had none.

        I’m not saying it’s not messed up, or how you must feel, he did design it this way because he was sick and did not ask for help. I don’t mean to speak for others’ suicidal feelings, but to purposely shock and hurt everyone like he did was a mean thing, he felt hurt and did make it into an event to hurt you back, or some of the others on the list, for failing to do something, or acknowledge something in him that he desperately wanted to be recognized for, and it killed him, but he was sick, and he wanted to convey that desperate feeling by arranging it just so. The world is too cruel for some people, the same world that’s normal for everyone else, because poor Mitch was sick.

      3. The 400 email addresses were a mix of press and academia with only a smaller amount being friends or family. I got the email Saturday afternoon.. I found out that evening that he had died Saturday morning, so the emails must have been automated.

    1. I’ll just take a whack at it and maybe someone confirm or deny:

      Guy who didn’t get into Harvard carried a chip on his shoulder, and convinced he’s smarter than anyone at Harvard, or in fact, 99.999% (perhaps greater) of everyone, proceeds to compose a treatise on everything that’s wrong with the world and everything that could get fixed if only anyone ever had the sense to listen, I’m too special for this world. The End.

      Addendum: sent email to people he either did find worthwhile, but probably mostly people whom he perceived to be dicks to him, who may have ridiculed him or simply not invited him to parties; take that, assholes! And then dramatically offs himself where it would cause a big scene so everyone would talk about it and how tragic his life was.

      I don’t really mean to make light of this, as if his pain weren’t real to him, and I don’t mean to insinuate there is nothing innovative or creative about the 1905 page thing he wrote. I’m just trying to sum it up based on circumstantial evidence. If I was going to kill myself someday, that’s what kind of mood I’d be in.

      1. I’m sorry, I didn’t read your whack at it. It was too long and uninteresting. Couldn’t get past “Guy who didn’t”. Can somebody summarize this comment for me?

      2. Wow, how did you get such incredible insight on a suicidal man you’ve never met from a suicide note you’ve never read?

      3. @ Ben, your drawers are full of sarcasm. I never said I couldn’t relate to the guy. He fits a profile of someone who talked too much, tried to say something smart, tried to belong, and people made fun of him or ignored him. He went quite overboard, both in having to get 1905 pages of wisdom off his chest, and planning to reveal it to several hundred people after he had performed his public suicide in a public place. I think you can tell a lot from those clues. He clearly wanted recognition, and his mother thinks so too. I never said I was never suicidal myself, but from what I’ve read most suicides you hear about seem to think the world would be better off without them (and my guess is they’d normally do it at home or somewhere they wouldn’t immediately be found by a stranger), than resentful of a world that never let them in. I’d be with Mitchell in the latter category, and want people to suffer who hadn’t seen the signs, dramatically reveal how sorry they should be I was no longer in the world, rather than ever think they were better off without me. Quite the reason I never followed through is I know it doesn’t work; there are people I wouldn’t want to hurt and they’d be hurt; and the knowledge I could not come back as a ghost and get any satisfaction from their reaction (silly as that may be). Shame on anyone for thinking I was making a joke.

      4. The thing is, he was a really nice quiet guy.. and very cerebral. I liked him a lot. He didn’t complain or vent.. I guess he was doing it in his book. He didn’t seem depressed. I have many friends who are artists or writers. They all spend a lot of time on their own working. He did this. He was writing his book. It didn’t seem weird or surprising. I talked to him about it in general terms. I have had many discussions about meaning and philosophy with others in the past. The conversation can be fun or serious. I have talked to people with much more severe, bleak outlooks. Mitch was always calm. Whatever was going on, was going on deeper than I ever saw. He always seemed to calm to do this. It really makes my whole judgement system flip. But we all make better calls after the fact. I’m haunted by his actions. I wasn’t even that close a friend, but it’s getting to me. I wish I could have seen this coming. I wish I could have done something.

      5. @Friend of Mitch

        My condolences for the loss of your friend.

        I completely understand about your feeling of wishing there was something you could have done…. I hope that you don’t get stuck on that part however. There was probably very little you could have done even if you knew that he was suicidal. It’s similar to helping a drug addict where there’s very little you can do to help a person until they decide that they want help from friends, families or professionals.

      6. @ Friend of Mitch – It is really rough to go through this, I’m sure. Please don’t go through it alone. You have lost your friend, plus you feel partially responsible even though there was nothing you could have done. It is normal to feel this way, but it’s ok to seek counseling or support groups. It is nice and probably helpful of you now to open up to us, strangers, to represent Mitch, and as his friend, to give us a little more to the story, and to get out some of what you are feeling. The topic will probably be overtaken in a few days or so, and you will still feel lost and in need of someone to talk to, so I hope you will seek that out in your community or find a community online that offers a more stable and safe place to vent and feel out loud and work your way through it. It is not uncommon for friends of a suicide to feel they missed some heavy clues and it was their fault, but in this case, I think Mitch went out of his way to appear contented in the journey toward carrying out a senseless message as if he were doing ordinary work alongside you, keeping it a secret, and in a way that he does place the blame on others. That may be how he felt, but that’s different from it being true. If he wanted you to stop him, he would have told you, and he didn’t, so you couldn’t. I hope you get more stable grief counseling. Carrying blame and dwelling on it alone is not a good thing. Thanks for showing up and giving another closer point of view.

      7. Thanks folks. I appreciate your comments. I’m ok. As I said there are many folks who were closer and probably more devastated than I. I’ve been in contact with some. I am talking to my family and friends as well. If I need consoling I’m not afraid to get it. This is just such a bizarre thing. I’m not sure anyone knows how to get a handle on it. I’m very sad that Mitch felt this was his answer. It is scary learning about this whole hidden world he had. Makes one wonder what everyone else is hiding. makes you wonder what his friends and family meant to him. His father died when he was young. Perhaps that has some connection to this. I think I’ll be doing some writing of my own, but mine will be intended to flush out this whole experience and settle it in my mind and I intend to live and breathe after I finish it. Thanks!

      8. And thank you, Friend of Mitch, for giving us a different perspective about what happened with your friend. It’s unfortunate that his depression clouded his judgment about how much his death would impact the lives of his friends and family.

  2. It means if you were born in 1984 you should know what that means! But if it’s the year you graduated I understand.

    tl;dr means “too long; didn’t read” and it’s often used as a way to further aggravate someone who made a long post about something they feel strongly about.

    1. Umh no, I shouldn’t know every internet acronym because I’m not on the web all the time and not all of them are really that common at all.

      I should have googled it, but meh..

  3. That’s one well-substantiated suicide note. It even has a bibliography. I guess it would have been a little feeble to reassure him by saying “But life is good, you know”.

    1. Well-substantiated? Not quite. Having an impressive bibliography doesn’t indicate good content. He frequently misquotes, misattributes, or completely takes out of context many of his sources. I have spent my morning cross-referencing and contextualizing many of his claims, and they really don’t hold up. Too often he relies on opinion or pure supposition. It is very sad that he felt suicide was his only option, but reading through his opinions and beliefs, one does get the sense that he was determined to have nothing to hope for. This entire work and his suicide were extremely selfish and disheartening.

      1. Tara, I’m impressed by your approach (assuming you really have been doing as you claim…. which I see no reason to doubt other than the fact that this is the internet!). It’s always good to see someone refusing to accept referenciness at face value. And it’s great to see someone taking this approach and not memerly going gooey-eyed or (the reverse extreme) snarkily writing ‘tl;dr’!

        That said, I think you should be cautious about your dismissal of this act as ‘extremely selfish and disheartening’. As someone who once (very seriously) attempted suicide, I can attest that this can be an act that arises from a very distorted sense of reality – and your research supports rather than refutes the hypothesis that Heisman’s sense of judgment was seriously warped.

        As an aside… I’ve been wondering about the extent to which writing this much will have created an investment in the act of suicide. Having gone so far, how hard it would have been to reverse that decision…?

  4. Heisman’s megalomaniacal rhetorical positioning (he has already been compared to Camus and Nietzsche) shows the thoughts of a troubled man equally media savvy and out of touch with reality. Could not his ‘work’ (crass quotations marks I know) be ‘suppressed’ by simple virtue of that matter that no one any longer has the time or willpower to wade through 1,905 pages and 1,455 footnotes just to see if you can argue about “the seditious genius” of “Jesus’ penis” coherently.

    http://scallywagandvagabond.com/2010/09/mitchell-heismans-1905-page-harvard-suicide-note-and-why-we-care-about-it/

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