The Tragic Story Of Evelyn McHale And “The Most Beautiful Suicide”

As her last wish, Evelyn McHale didn't want anyone to see her body, but the photo of her death has lived on for decades.

Evelyn McHale

Wikimedia CommonsEvelyn McHale’s body on top of the limousine she landed on.

Evelyn McHale’s dying wish was that no one sees her body.

She wanted her family to remember her body the way it was before she jumped off the 86th-floor Observation Deck of the Empire State Building.

Evelyn McHale never got her wish.

Four minutes after her body landed on a United Nations limousine, parked at the curb, a photography student named Robert Wiles ran across the street and snapped a photo.

The photo shows Evelyn looking almost peaceful, like she could be sleeping, lying cradled in a mess of crumpled steel. Her feet are crossed at the ankles, and her gloved left-hand rests on her chest, clutching her pearl necklace.

Since being taken on May 1, 1947, the photo has become infamous, with Time magazine calling it “the most beautiful suicide.” Even Andy Warhol used it in one of his prints, Suicide (Fallen Body).

Though her death is infamous, not much is known about Evelyn McHale’s life.

She was born in Berkeley, Cali., to Helen and Vincent McHale, one of eight brothers and sisters. Sometime after 1930, her parents divorced, and the children all moved to New York to live with Vincent.

In high school, Evelyn was part of the Women’s Army Corps and was stationed in Jefferson City, Mo. Later, she relocated to Baldwin, N.Y., where she lived until her death.

She worked as a bookkeeper in the Manhattan, where she met her fiance, Barry Rhodes.

As far as her suicide, even less is known.

Observation

YouTube
The view of the 86th floor observation deck.

The day before her death, she had visited Rhodes in Pennsylvania, but he claimed that all was well upon her departure.

The morning of her death she arrived at the observation deck of the Empire State Building, removed her coat and placed it neatly over the railing, and penned a short note, found beside the coat. Then, she jumped.

According to police, a security guard was standing only 10 feet away from her when she jumped.

The note, found by a detective, didn’t give much insight into why she had done it but asked that her body be cremated.

“I don’t want anyone in or out of my family to see any part of me,” the note read. “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.”

Keeping with her wishes, her body was cremated, and she had no funeral.

The photo, however, has lived on for 70 years.


Next, read about the Jonestown massacre, the largest mass-suicide in history. Then, read about Japan’s creepy suicide forest.

Katie Serena
Katie Serena is a New York City-based writer and a writing fellow at All That Is Interesting.
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