The Most Beautiful Suicide
On May 12, 1947, a powerful picture taken by student photographer Robert Wiles, was published in a full page in life magazine. It still remains as one of the most famous after almost seven decades.
The photograph was of Evelyn McHale, a 23 year old California girl, who had jumped off to death from the Empire State Building. She was one of the 36 people who died by jumping from the building.
Evelyn McHale was born on September 20, 1923. She hailed from a broken family where her mother had left the family. Later, after her parent’s divorce was finalized, her father got the custody of the seven children. The reason for divorce was apparently the mental illness of her mother.
After high school, McHale was listed as a WAC. She shifted to New York and started working in a library. She lived a quiet life with her brother and sister-in-law in Baldwin. She met Barry Rhodes who was a college student whole working in the book shop and got engaged to him. He was just discharged from Air Force and McHale participated as a bridesmaid in Rhodes’ brother wedding.
On April 30, McHale visited Barry for this 24th birthday. She travelled all the way to Easton to New York by train. The next day, she boarded back the train in Penn station to leave for New York at 7am.
All seemed well until the morning of May 1 when a patrol officer saw a white scarf floating downward from the Empire State Building. Seconds later, the officer heard a loud smash.
Evelyn McHale had jumped off the Empire State Building and crashed on a UN Limousine parked on the 33rd street, some 200 feet west of fifth avenue.
After falling to her death and crumpling the limo she fell on, a huge round of spectators were gathered in about a minute. One of them was Robert Wiles, a photography student who happened to be across the street when he heard the crash.
Fortunately, he had his camera with him and he clicked a snap of lifeless Evelyn just four minutes into her death. What the world later saw in the photograph was a beautiful girl in crimson-reddish blouse and skirt, still wearing her gloves. She was still clutching her pearl necklace and had her feet crossed by the ankle. What she looked like at her death was as unbelievable as any other model ready for photo shoot. She looked calm and composed as if asleep.
When the police investigated, they found a note that said, she didn’t want her family to see her like that. And she also wanted her body to be creamted. Evidently, the reason she decided to give her life that morning was that she was a lot like her mother and wasn’t good enough o be anybody’s wife.
No one in her family or her fiancé could even comprehend why she would do anything like that. As per her wish, her body was cremated, there is no grave.
About seventy years after the incident, her photograph still remains the most popular and haunting and the most perfect form of death. It was captioned, “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”.
The writer is a journalist and poet. Also, she has a cat named Toyota.