Evelyn McHale’s dying wish was for no one to see her corpse. However, a tragic turn of events made a photo of her body live for decades.
Evelyn McHale did not wish for her friends and family to remember her any way other than the way it was before she jumped off the 86th-floor Observation Deck of the Empire State Building. Tragically, she never got her wish.
When she fell, her body landed on a United Nations limousine, parked at the curb. Four minutes after she fell, Robert Wiles, a photography student saw her corpse and snapped a photo. The photo shows Evelyn in a tranquil deep sleep, cradled in crumpled steel. Her feet are crossed and her left-hand rests gloved on her chest, holding her pearl necklace.
The photo was taken on May 1, 1947 and since then it has become famous all over the world. Time magazine termed it “the most beautiful suicide.” Andy Warhol even made use of it in one of his prints titled “Suicide (Fallen Body)”.
McHale’s death may be infamous, but little to nothing is known about her life. She is the daughter of Vincent and Helen McHale and was born in Berkeley, Cali. She has eight siblings. In the 1930s, her parents’ marriage fell apart and she and her siblings moved to New York to live with their dad.
McHale was part of the Women’s Army Corps in high school and was stationed in Jefferson City, Mo. She relocated to Baldwin, N.Y. soon after and remained there until her death. In the Manhattan, she worked as a bookkeeper where she met her fiance, Barry Rhodes.
Even less is known about her suicide in comparison to her life.
She visited Rhodes in Pennsylvania one day prior to her suicide, but according to him she was perfectly alright when she left.
On the morning of her death, she got to the observation deck of the Empire State Building. There she removed her coat and placed it over the railing, penned a short note which was later found beside her coat, and then she jumped.
Police reports state that a security guard was standing 10 feet away from her when she jumped. Detectives found the note but not much insight was given as to why she had done it. It only asked that her body be cremated.
The note 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.”
According to her wishes, her body was cremated and she had no funeral. The phot however, has lived on for 70 years.