The Empire State Building’s “beautiful suicide”

Evelyn McHale appeared to have everything going for her. The 20-year-old bookkeeper was engaged, and she’d just returned to the city after visiting her fiance at his college in Pennsylvania.

But she must have been despondent. On May 1, 1947, instead of going home to Long Island, she checked into the Governor Clinton Hotel, on Seventh Avenue and 31st Street.

There she composed a suicide note, tucking it into her purse. She then left the hotel. At 10:30 a.m., she went to the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building.

Against the railing she placed her folded coat, her purse, and a makeup kit filled with family photos.

At 10:40 a.m., pedestrians on 34th Street heard an explosive boom—what turned out to be the sound of Evelyn’s body crashing into a limousine.

A photographer happened to be nearby. He took several photos, one of which made it into Life magazine that week (right).

The caption read “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.”

Still in her pearls, her legs crossed elegantly, Evelyn looked peaceful, as if she was asleep.

She was dubbed “the most beautiful suicide” because of the eerie way her face and body were unbroken on top of the twisted metal of the limousine, even after a 1,000-foot fall.

In 1963, Andy Warhol co-opted the photo for a piece he titled “Suicide (Fallen Body).

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10 Responses to “The Empire State Building’s “beautiful suicide””

  1. petey Says:

    er … could you hide that picture as a link?

  2. Lisa Says:

    I was fascinated with this photo as a kid, scrutinized it endlessly (“The Best of Life” being one of the few books in my family’s modest library).

    I still think she makes a beautiful corpse, but now that I’m cognizant of how easily her falling body might have killed an innocent passerby or two, this could more accurately be dubbed “World’s Most Reckless Suicide”.

    (“Suicide Note? Check. Family photos? Check. White gloves? Check. Sprig of Lilly of the Valley? Check. Hundreds-of-people- who-want-to-live, down below? Geronimo!”)

  3. Lisa Says:

    According to Wikipedia, an interesting failed suicide attempt, some 30 years later:

    “On December 2, 1979, Elvita Adams jumped from the 86th floor, only to be blown back onto the 85th floor and left with a broken hip.”

  4. gimelgort Says:

    I too was (and am) fascinated by this photo as a young man, so much so that I tore it out of Life and framed it. Interestingly, the back side is a picture of young adults frolicking poolside, enjoying their lives, as Miss McHale was seemingly unable to. Re Lisa’s “reckless” comment: perhaps the young lady wasn’t thinking too clearly when she decided to jump. Ya think?

  5. midbach.com » Quite the storey… Says:

    [...] The Empire State Building’s “beautiful suicide” Evelyn McHale appeared to have everything going for her. The 20-year-old bookkeeper was engaged, and she’d just returned to the city after visiting her fiance at his college in Pennsylvania. … [...]

  6. Quite the storey… | blog.sevenapril.com Says:

    [...] The Empire State Building’s “beautiful suicide” Evelyn McHale appeared to have everything going for her. The 20-year-old bookkeeper was engaged, and she’d just returned to the city after visiting her fiance at his college in Pennsylvania. … [...]

  7. Victor Says:

    It is such a shame that she did not seek out help instead of giving in to her obviously unbearable depression.

  8. The suicide hotspot of an uptown el train station | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] the Empire State Building has always attracted the despondent and […]

  9. Peter Gilgen Says:

    If you want more info on Evelyn McHale please visit the Facebook Tribute Page I have created for her.

    https://www.facebook.com/EvelynFrancisMcHale

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