New York, the documentary film by Ric Burns, contains a great segment on the Empire State Building that is available on YouTube in three parts.
The first two parts are particularly interesting, especially the construction stuff that starts around the five minute mark of part one. Oh, and don’t miss the steelworkers throwing red hot rivets around to each other…that starts right near the end of part one and continues into part two. Some other highlights:
- The original Waldorf-Astoria hotel was torn down (with no small amount of glee from the ESB’s developers) to make room for the new skyscraper. The hotel was built by William Waldorf Astor, heir to the forture created by his father and grandfather (John Jacob Astor & John Jacob Astor III), on the site of his father’s mansion. WW Astor’s cousin, John Jacob Astor IV, went down on the Titanic and the Senate hearings into the disaster were held at the hotel.
- The steel beams were custom forged in Pittsburgh and shipped immediately to the building site…some arrived still hot to the touch from the furnaces.
- At the peak of construction, the workers were adding 4-5 stories a week. During one 22-day stretch, 22 new floors were erected. From start to finish, the entire building took an astonishing 13 months to build, about the same amount of time recently taken by the MTA to fix the right side of the stairs of the Christopher St subway station entrance.
- The building didn’t become profitable until 1950.
On May 1, 1947, Evelyn McHale leapt to her death from the observation deck of the Empire State Building. Photographer Robert Wiles took a photo of McHale a few minutes after her death.
The photo ran a couple of weeks later in Life magazine accompanied by the following caption:
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.
At 10:40 A. M., Patrolman John Morrissey of Traffic C, directing traffic at Thirty-fourth Street and Fifth Avenue, noticed a swirling white scarf floating down from the upper floors of the Empire State. A moment later he heard a crash that sounded like an explosion. He saw a crowd converge in Thirty-third Street.
Two hundred feet west of Fifth Avenue, Miss McHale’s body landed atop the car. The impact stove in the metal roof and shattered the car’s windows. The driver was in a near-by drug store, thereby escaping death or serious injury.
On the observation deck, Detective Frank Murray of the West Thirtieth Street station, found Miss McHale’s gray cloth coat, her pocketbook with several dollars and the note, and a make-up kit filled with family pictures.
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), but I can’t find a copy of it anywhere online. Anyone?