September 14, 2014

The Day Evelyn Died

She is laying down, her legs are crossed, one ankle resting on the other. Her hands are near her head. One hand is clutching her pearl neckless. Her head is tilted up and her mouth is slightly open. It's as if she looking up at the sky, day dreaming, watching the clouds go by, except her eyes are closed. She will never open her eyes again. She is dead.

The force of the collision is evident in the crumpled roof that molded around her body.
Photo: Imgur.com
On May 12th, 1947 Evelyn McHale climbed 1,576 steps1 to the 86th-floor observatory of the Empire State Building. Once there she folded her coat and laid it over the observation deck wall.2 She then jumped off the building to her death, landing 1,050 feet below.Her body landed on the roof of a limousine on 34th ave. A young photographer named Robert Wiles, was across the street when he heard what sounded like an explosion, he ran over as a crowd was gathering around the crushed car and quickly snapped a photograph of Evelyn's body on the hood. A detective named Frank Murray found her coat, makeup kit, and a note book with a suicide note in it, which read:

"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."

The following part of the suicide note was crossed out:

"My fiance 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."
The note continued:
"Tell my father, I have too many of my mother's tendencies."
Post card of a family at the Empire State Building Observation Deck, 86th Floor.
Circa 1930s. Photo: Fashion Herald.org
Another view of the 86th Floor Observation Deck May 22, 1947. Photo: Mashable

Evelyn was born in 1923 in Berkeley, California to the parents of Vincent and Helen McHale. Her father was in the banking business. Evelyn parents divorced sometime around 1940 and Evelyn and her siblings lived with their Father. 
Evelyn circa 1942 Photo: Geni.com
After high school, Evelyn joined the Women's Army Corp. In 1944 she moved to Long Island, NY and started work as a bookkeeper in Manhattan. It was there, in New York that she met an Air Force navigator named Barry Rhodes. They became engaged.4

It's ironic that Evelyn didn't want anyone to see her body but since Robert Wiles decided to publish his photo of her body, the photo has become part of historic photos ever taken, as macabre as it. 

The photo was subsequently published in Time Magazine on a full page in May 1947 and dubbed it "The Most Beautiful Suicide." The famous artist Andy Warhol used the photo in his prints entitled "Suicide (Fallen Body)".5

A little boy poses for a photograph at the 86th-floor observation deck. Circa 1948.
A steel barrier had been erected to help prevent further suicides or accidents.
Photo: Fashion Herald.org

Evelyn's solution to her problems was permanent and tragic. No one really knows why Evelyn felt like she needed to end her life. Outworldly she seemed to have all the makings of happiness, a fiancee, a job, and a family. It's said that her Mother, suffered from depression and Evelyn, obviously did too. I hope she has found peace.

Due to the nature of this blog post, I feel compelled to say that if you are contemplating suicide or know someone who is suicidal please reach out for help!

1-800-273-8255

Text CONNECT to 741741

For More Info On Evelyn and The Empire State Building, Check Out:

Photos of the empire state building circa the 1930s and 1940s.

Codex99- Photojournalism as Iconography
More about Evelyn's background, and photos of the tragedy.

Geneology of Evelyn, pictures, and info on her parents, and siblings.

Interesting info and pictures on the history of the Empire State Building.

Article on the photo.

The macabre history of suicides at the Empire State Building

Offical Website

Bibliography

1. [“Empire State Building Fast Facts.” CNN, 2017 July 14, 10:11 am, www.cnn.com/2013/07/11/us/empire-state-building-fast-facts/index.html.]
2. [“The Most Beautiful Suicide - Evelyn McHale Leapt to Her Death from the Empire State Building, 1947.” Rare Historical Photos, 27 Feb. 2014, rarehistoricalphotos.com/beautiful-suicide-evelyn-mchale-leapt-death-empire-state-building-1947/.]
3. [Empire State Building Fast Facts.” CNN, 2017 July 14, 10:11 am, www.cnn.com/2013/07/11/us/empire-state-building-fast-facts/index.html.]
4. [99, Codex. “Evelyn McHale Photojournalism as Iconography.” Codex 99, 8 Oct. 2009, www.codex99.com/photography/43.html.]
5. [Wikipedia contributors. "Evelyn McHale." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 Aug. 2017. Web. 27 Aug. 2017]