kottke.org posts about evelynmchale

The most beautiful suicideJul 16 2008

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.

Evelyn Mchale by Robert Wiles

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.

From McHale's NY Times obituary, Empire State Ends Life of Girl, 20:

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?

Update: A not-so-great representation of Warhol's version of this photograph is available at Google Books. (thx, ruben)

Update: Here's a better photo of Warhol's print. (thx, lots of people)

Update: Here's the page as it appeared in Life Magazine.

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

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