This detail from a photo by Robert C. Wiles was published as a full-page image in the 12 May 1947 issue of Life Magazine. It ran with the caption: “At the bottom of the Empire State Building the body of Evelyn McHale reposes calmly in grotesque bier, her falling body punched into the top of a car.”
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.
Evelyn Francis McHale was born 20 Sept 1923 in Berkeley, California. She was the sixth child (of seven) of Vincent and Helen McHale.
Around 1930 Vincent accepted a position of Federal Land Bank Examiner and the family moved to Washington, D.C. Shortly thereafter Helen left the family for unknown (although apparently material) reasons. They were divorced and Vincent took custody of the children. Later he moved the family to Tuckahoe, New York were Evelyn attended high school.
After high school Evelyn joined the Women’s Army Corps and was stationed in Jefferson, Missouri. After her service it was reported that she burned her uniform.
Evelyn then moved to Baldwin, New York to live with her brother and sister-in-law and took a job as a bookkeeper with an engraving company. It was here that she became engaged to Barry Rhodes, an ex-GI studying at Lafayette College in Easton Pa. They had intended to be married at Barry’s brothers house in Troy, NY in June 1947.
On 30 Apr she visited her fiance in Easton presumably to celebrate his 24th birthday and boarded a train back to NYC at 7 a.m., 1 May 1947. Barry stated to reporters that “When I kissed her goodbye she was happy and as normal as any girl about to be married.”
Of course we’ll never know what went through Evelyn’s mind on 66 mi train ride home. But after she arrived in New York she went to the Governor Clinton Hotel where she wrote a suicide note and shortly before 10:30 a.m. bought a ticket to the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building.
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.”
Her body was identified by her sister Helen Brenner and, according to her wishes, she was cremated. There is no grave.