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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Evelyn McHale (1923 – 1947)

Little is known about what drove Evelyn McHale to jump from the Empire State Building and be captured in the “most beautiful suicide [photograph] ever” on 1st May 1947.

 

Berkeley, California born bookkeeper McHale was one of nine children of a divorced bank examiner. The 23-year-old worked at the Kitab Engraving Company in Pearl Street, Manhattan and was engaged to a college student discharged from the United States Army Air Force named Barry Rhodes. She seemed to have had it all, but chose to end her life from atop one of the most famous buildings in the world.

 

“Elegantly attired and wearing a silk scarf, white gloves and a pearl necklace… [she is said to have] carefully removed her coat and neatly folded it, next she placed her black pocketbook on top of her coat [along with her makeup compact filled with family pictures and a handbag]. At 10:40am: Patrolman John Morrisey of Traffic C, directing traffic at 34th and 35th Avenue, reported seeing a white scarf floating lazily down from the heavens. Moments later this peaceful, dreamy scene was brutally interrupted by a heart rendering boom” as McHale had jumped 1,050-feet to her death and a crowd had converged.

 

Photography student Robert Wiles is said to have run over and captured a “poignant and surreal photo.” It was the only image of his ever published and Life Magazine captioned it: “At the bottom of the Empire State Building the body of Evelyn McHale reposes in grotesque bier, her falling body punched into the top of a [United Nations Assembly Cadillac limousine].” The driver was “in a nearby drug store, thereby escaping death or serious injury” other reports added.

 

A note found in her pocketbook announced: “I don’t want anyone in or out of my family to see any part of me. Could you destroy my body by cremation? I beg of you and my family – don’t have any service for me or remembrance for me.” She had crossed out the following: “My fiancé asked me to marry him in June. I don’t think I would make a good wife for anybody. He is much better off without me” and then ended: “Tell my father, I have too many of my mother’s tendencies.”

 

Of the image, one commentator later remarked: “Evelyn’s gloved hand appears to be serenely touching her pearl necklace, and her legs crossed as if taking a nap,” whilst another added: “Evelyn McHale will go down in history as something akin to a fallen angel, as poignant and iconic as Marilyn Monroe.”

 

She was cremated with no service, grave or memorial and her fiancé reportedly said of her: “When I kissed her goodbye, she was happy and as normal as any girl about to be married.” He remained single for the rest of his life and died in Melbourne, Florida in 2007.

 

Many ‘sightings’ of Evelyn McHale wearing bright red lipstick and “looking distressed” on the 86th floor observation deck have been reported and in the years since her death, she has been recalled in the works of Andy Warhol, David Bowie, Pearl Jam and Taylor Swift amongst others.

 

Evelyn McHale (1923 – 1947) – Little is known about what drove Evelyn McHale to jump from the Empire State Building and be captured in the “most beautiful suicide [photograph] ever” on 1st May 1947.
The United Nations Assembly Cadillac limousine that the body of Evelyn McHale landed upon after falling 86 floors from the observatory deck of the Empire State Building in New York City and the original image (unedited) taken by Robert Wiles. It has been has been compared to the photograph by Malcolm Wilde Browne of the self-immolation of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức who burned himself alive at a busy Saigon road intersection on 11th June 1963.
Evelyn McHale (1923 – 1947) – Little is known about what drove Evelyn McHale to jump from the Empire State Building and be captured in the “most beautiful suicide [photograph] ever” on 1st May 1947.
An image clearly showing the damage to the car from above.
Evelyn McHale (1923 – 1947) – Little is known about what drove Evelyn McHale to jump from the Empire State Building and be captured in the “most beautiful suicide [photograph] ever” on 1st May 1947.
Joséphine Wister Faure created a ‘mixed media sculpture’ of the car that the body of Evelyn McHale hit on 1st May 1947. Her sculpture is described as: “An interpretation of the photo, revisiting the impact of the image and the trace this woman left, both literally and physically. Also being true to her last wishes in which she specifically asked not to be seen. Inside the car the radio is playing 1947 NYC broadcast.” It was exhibited at the Boite Noire Gallery in the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles in 2015.

6 COMMENTS

  1. What a sad, sad story. I cried when I got to the end. The videos – especially the first one – are worth watching. The second one features a man a little obsessed with his own problems. Poor Evelyn – she must have found out something that morning that truly tipped her over the edge. How tragic. May her spirit rest forever in peace. The image if I didn’t now know it was real would indeed be described as beautifully choreographed.

    • Not only that Fred, but if the owner had been in it, she would have probably taken him with her as well. She obviously wanted to make some sort of statement ending it the way she did.

  2. I wonder what the fiance had said that triggered her. Did he tell her the marriage was off? Did she tell him the marriage was off? Was there another secret? Something plainly went on between the two of them.

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