Evelyn Francis McHale was born 20 Sept 1923 in Berkeley, California. She was the sixth child (of seven) of Vincent and Helen McHale.
Around 1930 Vincent accepted a position of Federal Land Bank Examiner and the family moved to Washington, D.C. Shortly thereafter Helen left the family for unknown (although apparently material) reasons. They were divorced and Vincent took custody of the children. Later he moved the family to Tuckahoe, New York were Evelyn attended high school.
After high school Evelyn joined the Women’s Army Corps and was stationed in Jefferson, Missouri. After her service it was reported that she burned her uniform. Evelyn then moved to Baldwin, New York to live with her brother and sister-in-law and took a job as a bookkeeper with an engraving company.2 It was here that she became engaged to Barry Rhodes, an ex-GI studying at Lafayette College in Easton Pa. They had intended to be married at Barry’s brothers house in Troy, NY in June 1947.
On 30 Apr she visited her fiance in Easton presumably to celebrate his 24th birthday and boarded a train back to NYC at 7 a.m., 1 May 1947. Barry stated to reporters that “When I kissed her goodbye she was happy and as normal as any girl about to be married.”
Of course we’ll never know what went through Evelyn’s mind on 66 mi train ride home. But after she arrived in New York she went to the Governor Clinton Hotel where she wrote a suicide note and shortly before 10:30 a.m. bought a ticket to the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building.
Around 10:40 am Patrolman John Morrissey, directing traffic at Thirty-fourth Street and Fifth Avenue, noticed a white scarf floating down from the upper floors of the building. Moments later he heard a crash and saw a crowd converge on 34th street. Evelyn had jumped, cleared the setbacks, and landed on the roof of a United Nations Assembly Cadillac limousine parked on 34th street, some 200 ft west of Fifth Ave.[3,4]
Across the street, Robert C. Wiles, a student photographer, also noticed the commotion and rushed to the scene where he took several photos, including this one, some four minutes after her death. Later, on the observation deck, Detective Frank Murray found her tan (or maybe gray, reports differ) cloth coat neatly folded over the observation deck wall, a brown make-up kit filled with family pictures and a black pocketbook with the note 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. 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. Tell my father, I have too many of my mother’s tendencies.”
Her body was identified by her sister Helen Brenner and, according to her wishes, she was cremated. There is no grave.
After Wiles photograph appeared in Life it was widely republished in a number of photography anthologies and became one of the iconic images of the 20th century. It was the only photograph he ever published. Andy Warhol later appropriated the photo for his Suicide (Fallen Body) serigraph, part of his Death and Disaster series (1962– 1967):
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Comments from Our Readers
35 people other than McHale since 1931 is the highest number I found. I cannot tell if this counts the construction worker who was laid off in 1931 and jumped at an elevator shaft before the building was completed in March. What I read says "Since the Empire State Building was constructed in 1931 some 36 people have jumped from the building, including 17 from the 86th floor observation deck. Evelyn was the 12th suicide from the building and the sixth to clear all of the setbacks..." My I-take-every-statement-literally interpretation of all things translates this to mean "After/ following the completion date, 36 people have jumped, not including the 1931 construction worker". I did find a New York Times article (see last link below) that says that as of Dec 2004: "Its owners say they do not keep a tally, but according to newspaper reports, the suicide last week was either the 31st or 34th at the Empire State Building since it opened in May 1931."
Speaking of suicide, they are once again talking about installing nets on the Golden Gate Bridge to catch/deter jumpers. Have you seen the documentary The Bridge? It's terribly eerie. BTW, I first thought the photo was by WeeGee.
Yes, I had read about [Elvita Adams who was blown back to the 85th floor by a gust of wind]...When our time is up, it is up! And obviously it works the other way around too - when it isn't, it simply isn't! She lucked out! Hope that she found a new lease on life after that.
I wish people could realize that things are never as bleak as they seem; that they will always get better with a little bit of effort. Gotta have faith in that though and some people have no idea what that is unfortunately.
I did read about some of the other attempts and actual jumps. Many that never made it to the street but with the same outcome. It is hard to fathom the thoughts going through a person's head in these situations. No second chances except in the case [of Elvita Adams]..
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Robert Edward and Donald McKenna Quiz Poets Laureate
A young, beautiful girl ended her life in a violent way. Her name was Evelyn McHale.
The nick-name of her action is called "Codex 99".
36 Jumpers have died in this fashion using the Empire State building as their spring-board.
After hearing of some bad news in her life, It is obvious that Evelyn took this way out.
Evelyn could not handle rejection at all well.
Not well at all!
Robert Edward and Donald McKenna Quiz Poets Laureate
A Death So Public, in the End So Forgotten
By DAN BARRY December 1, 2004
The young man walked into the soaring building that reduces us all to specks. He took the only way up: past the ticket taker, past the security checkpoint and into one of the elevators that rocket skyward, 20th floor, 40th floor, 60th, 80th.
Within a few minutes, he had reached the 86th-floor observatory of the glorious Empire State Building, the tallest building in New York City once again. Before long, he had made his way through the souvenir shop, past the King Kong coffee mugs and next year's calendars, and out onto the deck, nearly a fifth of a mile above street level.
On this crisp and mostly clear November morning, on this day after Thanksgiving, the world stretched out before him. Below, the flesh-and-concrete experiment known as Manhattan; above, the cerulean blue.
He pressed his back against one of the building's walls, witnesses later said, and then rushed toward the 10-foot silvery fencing whose rods curl inward and end in knifelike blades. He clambered up and over to the other side, they said, so quickly that no guard could catch him.
Now the young man was on the outside rather than the inside, his feet planted on a ledge. He paused for a moment, witnesses said, then spread open his arms to become a falling human star.
Perhaps in another city this very public form of suicide would be considered spectacular and would feed news reports for days. But in New York, death by Empire State Building has long since lost its novelty, its shock. This is partly because it has been done many times before, partly because suicides are too sad, and partly because, well, discussing suicides might encourage more.
That is why the city has a kind of procedure for Empire State Building suicides. Witnesses recount the last words and gestures of the dead. The building's managers express sympathy but point out that nearly four million people visit the site a year. And some newspapers illustrate the tragic leap with a graphic of descending dots that often end with an X - as if to say, enough.
Many of the facts and statistics about the Empire State Building are cemented in city lore: that it rises 1,250 feet in the sky, weighs 365,000 tons and has 103 floors, 6,500 windows and 73 elevators. In 1933, a make-believe King Kong clung to its side while swatting pesky airplanes, and in 1997, a real-life gunman killed a tourist, wounded six others and then killed himself on the observation deck.
But statistics regarding the number of people who have jumped from the building's Olympian perches are less certain. Its owners say they do not keep a tally, but according to newspaper reports, the suicide last week was either the 31st or 34th at the Empire State Building since it opened in May 1931.
And it is primarily in newspapers that those who leap are memorialized. The brooding young magazine researcher who pushed off from the observation deck's concrete wall, calling out, "Well, so long, folks." The office clerk who scrawled several suicide notes, including one to an associate that read: "Jack, please call Mrs. T. I've gone out the window," and another to his wife, Mrs. T., explaining that he had "gambled on someone's say-so and lost."
"Get your insurance and take good care of it," he wrote. "Get married again by all means, but I certainly hope not. Love, Doll."
Another man, unremarkable save for his loud checked sport coat, dropped a quarter on the observation deck's floor. A young boy picked the coin up and offered it to the man, who said: "You keep it. I won't need it." The boy dropped the coin in a pay-per-view telescope, just as the man climbed onto the parapet - and vanished from view.
Of the others who vanished over the years, only a few received more than passing notice, notwithstanding their very public deaths. In 1947, a World War II veteran fell 86 floors to land on Mrs. Mervin Sylvester Coover, visiting from Iowa. In chronicling her long recovery, newspapers had no choice but to repeat the veteran's name.
Most, though, are forgotten as quickly as if they had killed themselves at home, no matter that they twirled through the air, drew upward gazes, landed with a resounding thud. The young man who died last week lingers on the fringes of the news only because his body has yet to be attached to a name.
He was carrying no identification. And the police have little to go on, other than a souvenir photograph of him, taken that day at the world-famous Empire State Building.
1. On May 1, 1947, Evelyn McHale commited suicide by jumping off the 86th floor observation platform of the Empire State Building.
2. The Most Beautiful Suicide
3. Over 30 have attempted suicide, most successfully. There were two known failures.
This detail from a photo by Robert C. Wiles was published as a full-page image in the 12 May 1947 issue of Life Magazine. It ran with the caption: “At the bottom of the Empire State Building the body of Evelyn McHale reposes calmly in grotesque bier, her falling body punched into the top of a car.”
Evelyn, still clutching a pearl necklace, looks disarmingly placid and composed – as if simply asleep. Around her, however, the broken glass and crumpled sheet metal of a car roof show the brutally destructive evidence of her 1050 ft jump. Some 60 years later the photo remains as haunting
1. Much of Evelyn’s life story as presented here is based on research by Kathy Mechan and is used by kind permission.
2. Kitab Engraving Company, 40 Pearl Street, Baldwin, New York.
3. Evelyn’s suicide was picked up by the International wire services and was widely reported the next day in many newspapers: “Empire State Leap Ends Life of Girl, 20.” New York Times. 2 May 1947: 23, “Afraid to Wed, Girl Plunges to Death from Empire State.” Chicago Tribune. 2 May 1947: 4 and “Doubting Woman Dives to Death.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 2 May 1947: 1. Here is a sadly 2-bit Xerox version of a photo released by the family and used by the wire services:
4. Since the Empire State Building was constructed in 1931 some 36 people have jumped from the building, including 17 from the 86th floor observation deck. Evelyn was the 12th suicide from the building and the sixth to clear all of the setbacks. She was one of five people in a three week period to attempt suicide from the observation deck. In response a 10-ft wire mesh fence was installed and guards were trained to spot potential jumpers. After the barrier was installed people just jumped from other parts of the building, usually from office windows. The most recent suicide, however, was a 23-yo Yale student who managed to scale the observation deck fence on 30 May 2010.
5. The suicide note was reported in “Girl Who Leaped to Death Planned Wedding in Troy.” The Times Record (Troy, N.Y.). 2 May 1947: 1,17. The striked sentences were crossed out by Evelyn.
6. “Picture of the Week.” Life. 12 May 1947. See also: Maloney, Tom (ed). U.S. Camera, vol 2. New York: Morrow, 1948, as well as several Best of Life collections.
Over the years, more than thirty people have attempted suicide, most successfully, by jumping from the upper parts of the building. The first suicide occurred even before its completion, by a worker who had been laid off. The fence around the observatory terrace was put up in 1947 after five people tried to jump during a three-week span.
On May 1, 1947, 23-year-old Evelyn McHale leapt to her death from the 86th floor observation deck and landed on a limousine parked at the curb. Photography student Robert Wiles took a photo of McHale's oddly intact corpse a few minutes after her death. The police found a suicide note among possessions she left on the observation deck: "He is much better off without me ... I wouldn’t make a good wife for anybody". The photo ran in the May 12, 1947 edition of Life magazine, and is often referred to as "The Most Beautiful Suicide". It was later used by visual artist Andy Warhol in one of his prints entitled Suicide (Fallen Body).
In December 1943, ex-United States Navy gunner's mate William Lloyd Rambo jumped to his death, landing amidst Christmas shoppers on the street below.
Only one person has jumped from the upper observatory: on November 3, 1932, Frederick Eckert, of Astoria, ran past a guard in the enclosed 102nd floor gallery and jumped a gate leading to an outdoor catwalk intended for dirigible passengers. Eckert's body landed on the roof of the 86th floor observation promenade.
Two people have survived jumps, in both cases by not managing to fall more than a floor: On December 2, 1979, Elvita Adams jumped from the 86th floor, only to be blown back onto the 85th floor by a gust of wind and left with a broken hip. On April 25, 2013, a man, who is presumed to have jumped, fell from the 86th floor observation deck but landed alive on an 85th floor ledge – where security guards managed to bring him inside; he suffered only minor injuries
LEAPS TO HIS DEATH OFF EMPIRE TOWER; Unidentified Man Eludes Guard and Plunges From Stairway Above 102d Floor Observatory. VISITORS SEE THE TRAGEDY German Postcards in Pocket Sole Clue to Identity of First to Leap Off Building.
An unidentified man got past a guard stationed on the staircase leading from the 102d-floor observatory of the Empire State Building to the top floor yesterday, hurdled a fourfoot circular wall and leaped to his death. His body hurtled past the eighty-eighth-floor observatory in view of twenty visitors and landed on the roof of a promenade on the eighty-sixth floor.
The New York Times, November 4, 1932
SKY FALL! Man tumbles off Empire State Building After 'leaping' one story security talks man out of jumping a second time to avoid death plunge. by Joseph Stepansky, et al New York Daily News Thursday, April 25, 2013, 2:20 AM www.nydailynews.com/new-york/sky-fall-man-tumbles-...
SCARY SIGHT: A man straddles the ledge of the Empire State Buidling before being talked down.
Two tourists were taking in the sights Wednesday night, when right before their eyes a man hovered between life and death on the 85th floor of the Empire State Building. Argentinians Luis Ariel Jofre and Julieta Paola Barambones said they saw the man, who had apparently already fallen one floor off an observation deck, swing his legs into the air as if he meant to drop again.
Man is rushed from Empire State Building after tumbling one story, breaking his ankle and cutting his hand.
“He was in his own world, like he was lost,” a shocked Jofre, 29, said of the 11:45 p. m. incident. “He was calm looking down, like it was nothing, but it was 80 stories high.”
Authorities say the man will be facing a trespassing charge.
Security guards talked the man off the ledge, said Jofre, who added, “We’re relieved that he didn’t die.”
FDNY officials said the man — wearing a white shirt and black pants — was transported to Bellevue Hospital as an emotionally disturbed person. A cop at the scene said the man suffered a broken ankle and cuts to his hands and faces a trespassing charge. The officer also said it had not been determined whether the man’s fall from the 86th floor was intentional.
Luis Ariel Jofre and Julieta Paola Barambones of Argentina who witnessed man on a ledge of the Empire State Building.
Solving the quiz:
I searched on Google using variations of keywords Images dead woman lying on car. Bad move because what I got were hundreds of pages of hits for articles and photos of car ads showing sexy ladies in various stages of undress.