The Empire State of Leap
It is said that a guilty person sees shadows everywhere. I am fast becoming like that — i now see iconic photos everywhere, even when i don’t. I was watching Stranger than Fiction last night (a good movie, by the way) and a character talks about suicide: “There’s a photograph in the book called The Leaper. It’s old, but it’s beautiful. From above the corpse of a woman who’d just leapt to her death. There’s blood around her head, like a halo… and her leg’s buckled underneath, her arm’s snapped like a twig, but her face is so serene, so at peace. And I think it’s because when she died, she could feel the wind against her face.”
Although they may or may not be talking about the above photo, it is the first thing that came into my mind. It was Life Magazine’s Picture of the Week on May 12, 1947, and was also reprinted in The Best of Life. Andy Warhol used this photo in his work Suicide (Fallen Body) (See below), and Machines of Loving Grace put a recreation of the photo in their album cover for Gilt. There are also some colored versions of this photo, which remind me of one of those Tamara de Lempicka paintings.
The photo was taken on May Day, 1947 at the bottom of the Empire State Building. Photography student, Richard Wiles, was across the street, and heard a loud crash. He rushed to the scene and took the photo four minutes after one Evelyn McHale jumped off from the Observation Deck. Like the movie said, the picture is sad, but it is simultaneously serene. It isn’t full of gore, and Evelyn looked as if she was sleeping. Her calm repose contrasted greatly from the grotesque wreckage of a bier she herself created beneath her.
Life magazine wrote at the time: “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.”
Read the story on the Empire State Building’s Observation Desk here.