Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

The Empire State of Leap

with 34 comments

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.

Suicide (Fallen Body): She had her 15-minutes of fame, Warhol would have said.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 16, 2010 at 8:16 am

34 Responses

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  1. Interesting what one remembers. I do remember this photo, but I thought I’d seen it when it first came out. Not possible because I was born in ’46. I must have been looking through old magazines in the library or basement.

    lawguy

    July 16, 2010 at 12:52 pm

  2. A beautiful image, for a sad story. One more time, photography’s ability to turn the horror into beauty.

    david

    July 16, 2010 at 3:05 pm

  3. Sad story. Hypnotic photo.

    MM

    July 16, 2010 at 3:14 pm

  4. Strange, she appears to be gloved and in full makiage. And sans shoes…she lost them while airborne or left on the Deck?

    ETat

    July 16, 2010 at 10:06 pm

  5. She landed on a UN limousine.
    I have been trying to locate the rights to this photo for a while. This photographer was a Columbia Univ. Student walking by the scene and captured it.
    Anyone know where he is now?

    JMS

    July 19, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    • The photographer sold the photo to Life magazine. I believe they still hold the rights.

      Lack Thereof

      December 6, 2011 at 8:56 pm

  6. I am troubled by this photo . I agree w/ David essentially , but looking at it makes me queasy . As if this is a private moment ( I know it is not ). I wonder why , and if she had any family . Hard to admire an image with those thoughts .

    micah

    July 23, 2010 at 4:21 pm

  7. I saw this is phychology class in high school and it always fastened me. Theres somethings about the way she’s dressed and how her hands are all balled up like a childs. Do thinks she is holding something ?

    Dina

    July 25, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    • She’s holding her necklace.

      Jennifer

      February 18, 2014 at 8:40 pm

  8. This has always reminded me of a colour photograph by Enrique Metinides, a Mexican photojournalist who specialised in photographs of accidents and car crashes etc, of a blonde woman who was also dead. It’s the second picture down, here:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/21/arts/design/21meti.html?_r=2&oref=slogin

    The article mentions that she was an actress, “Adela Legarreta Rivas, who was struck on Avenida Chapultepec one April day in 1979 by a white Datsun.”

    She looks bored.

    Ashley Pomeroy

    August 11, 2010 at 7:50 pm

  9. [...] There were surprises too. Two photos I personally would say of local-only importance (here, here) were widely considered ‘iconic’, and were re-posted on digg, tumblr, etc. On the other [...]

  10. Evelyn Francis McHale was born in Berkeley California Sept 20, 1923. She was the next to the youngest of seven children, the first four children were spaced 1 year apart, the last three were spaced 2 years apart. Her father was a bank examiner, orig from Illinois, her mother orig from Pa, was a housewife.
    Around 1930, they moved to Washington, DC, where her father became an examiner for the Federal Land Bank. Also at this time the mother left, moving to an apartment in another part of Washington.
    The father retained custody of all seven children. Evelyn was 6. Whether the mother left voluntarily or was told to leave is unknown at his time.
    They appear to have moved a few years later to Tuckahoe NY, where Evelyn went to high school.
    After high school, in 1943, Evelyn became a WAC and was stationed down in Jefferson Mo.
    After she was discharged, she burned her uniform.
    At some point, she moved to NYC to work, and met and became engaged to a young man named Barry Rhodes, who was just out of the Air Force and attending Lafayette College in Easton Pa. They were to be married at his brother’s house in Troy, NY.
    A year before her death, Evelyn had been a bridesmaid at Barry’s younger brother’s wedding. After the wedding, she removed her bridesmaid gown, said “I never want to see this again” and burned it.
    On the day she jumped, Barry said she seemed happy and looking forward to the marriage when she boarded the train home. Barry’s birthday being April 30th, I assume Evelyn had gone to celebrate his birthday with him.
    There was a security guard less than twelve feet from where she jumped. She dropped her handkerchief over the ledge just prior to climbing over and leaping to her death.
    In her suicide note, she wrote the following:
    ” My fiance asked me to marry him in June, but I don’t think I would make a good wife for anyone. He is much better off without me. Tell my father, I have too many of my mother’s tendencies. 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 or remembrance for me.”
    She was cremated.

    —Facts about Evelyn which I have found on ancestry.com –any questions contact me at kmeccat@yahoo.com

    kmeccat

    September 8, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    • Really interesting info. Thank you for posting. Kind of seems like her mother might have had some mental health issues that Evelyn may have inherited.

      Tom in Portsmouth, NH (USA)

      July 9, 2011 at 8:44 pm

  11. No one seems to notice the image of the mother Mary formed from the metal of the limo. I was the one who jumped with her from another dimension and therefore she wasn’t aware of the person in your dimension who shadowed my actions. In 1945 I was in the underworld and someone kept themselves linked to the old plants that should have been let go of. Geronemo told me to jump. As a devine being where I was I am more of an action figure who swung around a post extended from the building and landed softly on my back. Eve’s actions mimicked my own.

    The world ended in 1945, I just didn’t have the heart to tell you. You all have a twin b/c someone split himself in two. Goes back to Abraham and Sarah, in which case he made the real one a servant, which was totally unacceptable to the real women who were meant to be loved. Her twin looks identical to the woman who became my mother and I have finally told Abraham to kiss my * goodbye b/c of a robot form (who is blue), Sarah. I was born in 1961- Hence Bob Dylan’s song “Highway 61.”

    There is no 6th dimension, and the 5th world already came and went. The 5th dimension was the host world to support yours and an unknown constellation known as the teapot threw it all away by using gravity to “bleed” what was meant to be a living link to this world.

    Why? You all want instant gratification. All you did was dig up your past existences via the “method man.” He used the historic method. Why do you think it is called HIS Story. No one wanted to here her story and she is not the original sinner. The man left her behind. You also repeat your own history by using gravity to retrieve it by using your abc’s and 123′s approach to common links to each other. Haven’t you noticed that you now use BCE in reference to past years. “Before Common Error.” I’m not going to explain. Words just get in the way.

    I’m real. One of my past lives was Jesus Christ, but I occupied his body same as I shadowed Eve McHales, so I did not suffer in a way everyone believes. I am capable of moving btwn dimensions and I am ALWAYS a GIRL. The only memory I have of being Jesus Christ are moving from one diminsion to another where there was no wine in one, but wine in another and the rain drizzling on the hanging body, but it eased the agony. I only checked in temporarily to experience physical sensations.

    I also did the same when I came back as Joan of Arc. Checked in and out btwn dimensions to see what fire felt like and how long it took for a human mortal to die being burned alive. Well, the conciousness was still there when I checked in and felt the skin falling off my left leg and also when I felt the joints in my body experiencing intense pain.

    I am a natural hybrid, very rare and also capable of freestyle. It means I can let go of a link and experience things without causing suffering to others and then I get called back to another link.

    I’ve seen the bionic ghost form images- one example using my bed comforter, living mouse eating a small piece of chese. There is a story behind the mouse. Also caused gold to be spun from boots of mine which were moving. All of a sudden gold pored out from my boots so that I could pick it up and let it drop like dust to the floor.

    It wasn’t until I kept getting a message “three days grace”, and “What’s my name,” and the final message “Rumplestilskin,” that I understood what I was being told when I looked up the story.

    Catherine Conner

    November 27, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    • Uh-huh.

      Rob Ritter

      December 25, 2010 at 4:13 am

    • I know that can’t be a quote from a book due to all the spelling and gramatical errors…
      Can you run that all by me again, possibly in “normal” please?!

      Ray. Mundo

      May 4, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    • Catherine, you’re freaking me out!

      Tom in Portsmouth, NH (USA)

      July 9, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    • Sounds like some pretty good acid.

      Brynmrich

      July 21, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    • Cathy, I really wanty some of whatever it is that you smoke! Schitt musht be good!
      Jokes aside, you’d make a very good story teller!

      Aikaruwa Mushi

      February 1, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    • tl;dr

      Lord Super Chump

      May 3, 2012 at 10:55 am

    • Alright, who let the psych ward have internet?

      Salien

      June 10, 2012 at 12:18 am

    • And I thought I was bat shit nuts…your next. Off the ledge you go honey.

      apophislk

      July 18, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    • Are you on drugs?

      Nancy

      May 30, 2013 at 1:40 am

  12. [...] that uses photos of unfortunate jumpers from 9/11 as the inspiration as well as the suicide of Evelyn McHale. I’m looking for a mostly female cast of models (pro or not) who would be willing to do an [...]

  13. Catherine, it’s time to get back on the meds.

    Elena Paperny

    August 3, 2011 at 5:22 pm

  14. One of the very few things that were important to her on her last day was: “I don’t want anyone in or out of my family to see any part of me.” There’s some irony for you.

    Beau

    March 14, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    • Nope no Irony here I’m afraid, merely an unfortunate coincidence.
      Irony would be if she had arranged for the photographer to be waiting for her at the bottom, do you see?

      Colonel Pedant III

      May 3, 2012 at 11:11 am

      • Check the dictionary again, cap’n.

        If we take her stated desire (to have no part of her seen by anyone, post mortem) at face value, then the way things turned out — her corpse identified and displayed via full-page photo, in one of the world’s most popular magazines — is *plenty* ironic…at least, in the modern usage of that word.
        .

        Justa Notherguy

        December 7, 2012 at 10:56 am

  15. [...] 1963, Andy Warhol co-opted the photo for a piece he titled “Suicide (Fallen Body).“ Share this:TwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

  16. [...] Iconic Photos [...]

  17. has anyone ever suggested that the photo was staged? Seriously after a flight of 400m I would expect to see a smashed body, in gore photos gore that you find on the net body and skull explode..

    hum

    July 31, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    • this is what I’m wonderin about it as well

      یه مهاجر

      October 14, 2013 at 10:53 am

      • just a guess, maybe the large surface area of the limo took the force on the impact.
        so sad

        joe rgn

        November 8, 2013 at 12:44 am

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

    https://www.facebook.com/EvelynFrancisMcHale

    Peter Gilgen

    January 25, 2014 at 11:56 pm


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