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Toronto, Ontario, Canada
"To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. It's a way of life." ~ Henri Cartier-Bresson

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Evelyn McHale | ‘The Most Beautiful Suicide’ Photograph

On May Day, just after leaving her fiancé, 23-year-old Evelyn McHale wrote a note. ‘He is much better off without me … I wouldn’t make a good wife for anybody,’ … Then she crossed it out. She went to the observation platform of the Empire State Building. Through the mist she gazed at the street, 86 floors below. Then she jumped. In her desperate determination she leaped clear of the setbacks and hit a United Nations limousine parked at the curb. Across the street photography student Robert Wiles heard an explosive crash. Just four minutes after Evelyn McHale’s death Wiles got this picture of death’s violence and its composure. The serenity of McHale’s body amidst the crumpled wreckage it caused is astounding. Years later, Andy Warhol appropriated Wiles’ photography for a print called Suicide (Fallen Body).

Evelyn McHale | ‘The Most Beautiful Suicide’ (Life Magazine, 1947) Photo by Robert C. Wiles

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 and affecting as when it was first published.
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.
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.. [via codex99.com]

Andy Warhol ~Suicide (Fallen Body). 1962

May, 1947 issue of LIFE Magazine

Evelyn incorrectly reported to be 20 years old. ( she was 23)
NY Times, May 2, 1947

Codex 99 did some research on McHale and her activities on the day she died.


  1. thanks for sharing.

  2. Amazing photograph.

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


  4. Couldn't have been a "United Nations" car!----UN was not formed until 1949!!!

    1. "The United Nations is an international organization founded in 1945 [*two years prior to photo] after the Second World War by 51 countries committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights." via http://www.unsceb.org/directory

      and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations

    2. You're thinking of NATO.

    3. Exactly right Anthony luke Photography. Great info. Besides, if United Nations wasn't formed until 1949, how would the May 2, 1947 issue of the New York Times be able to report this story with their name in it? How did they know the name of an organization that doesnt exist yet? They must have been able to see 2 years into the future!

  5. I have been working on a narrative nonfiction story titled “Evelyn” for quite some time. This famous photo taken after a woman jumped off the Empire State Building in 1947 is what inspired me.

    Nine months later, I have more information about this woman, Evelyn McHale, than anyone else to date. I have so much unknown information about her, and have done so much research and writing, that I have the support of not only some of the most prominent figures in ASU’s English department, but from some of the most successful authors in the literary world. In August, I will begin a writing internship to write, revise, prepare my manuscript for publication by this December.

    I have started a crowdfunding campaign for two reasons - I need to hire a lawyer to copyright my work, as it has been plagiarized several times. I also need to complete my research by the end of this summer. Many of the things I need, I can only access from New York. These are the main two things I am crowdfunding for-- but I have no idea how big this could get, which is why I set a high goal. You are able to donate as low as $5.

    If you could please share this and support my novel, it would be very appreciated. I truly hope that my novel captivates readers as much as her photograph has, and I believe I will have a strong audience because of the mystery she had left behind. Also, there are rewards for each person who decides to support “Evelyn” and I!