The Most Beautiful Suicide

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

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, 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

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