On Thursday, May 1, 1947, 23 year old Evelyn McHale got up, ate breakfast, and put on her prettiest red dress. She then got on the subway and rode to the Empire State Building, paid her fare to ride the elevator to the top, walked to the Observation Deck, closed her eyes, and walked off, falling 88 floors to the roof of a United Nations Cadillac limousine parked on 33rd Street.
Although it has been some 68 years since this tragedy, people still question why she did it. And people still commit suicide. Consider the safety devices being installed on the Golden Gate Bridge so people don't jump off there. Consider the numerous suicide hotlines and websites being put up every month.
Evelyn Francis McHale was born on September 20, 1923, in Berkeley, California, the sixth of seven children of Vincent and Helen McHale. In 1930, her father took a position with the Federal Land Bank and the family moved to Washington, DC. Shortly thereafter, Helen left the family and the couple divorced leaving Vincent with the seven kids. He moved the family to Tuckahoe, New York, where Evelyn graduated from high school. After World War II began Evelyn enlisted in the Woman's Army Corps. She was stationed in Missouri. After her military service it is rumored she burned her uniform. Evelyn then moved to Baldwin, New York, live with her brother and his wife. She took a job as a bookkeeper with an engraving company. And then she got engaged to Barry Rhodes, a fellow Army veteran who was studying at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, on the GI Bill.
They had planned to marry in June 1947 but they met on the night of April 30 to celebrate Barry's 24th birthday. People who heard them talking said Evelyn said, "I will never make a good wife for anyone." She said a lot more than that, all negative about herself.
Actually, in the scenario I posted here at the beginning, I left out a few things (giving it the Hollywood treatment): Evelyn actually spent the night with Barry and rode a train in from Baldwin at 7:00 AM. Barry had said that there was nothing in Evelyn's demeanor that indicated of what she was going to do to herself. He said he thought about her all morning.
And in the area around the Empire State Building, police were everywhere, even before the tragedy. The photograph was taken by Time Magazine staff photographer Robert Wiles and it received considerable recognition, which he had difficulty in accepting.
Police found her coat, scarf, purse, family pictures, and other personal items scattered on the street and on the Observation Deck.
A note was scrawled out:
"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. Tell my father, I have too many of my mother’s tendencies..."
Evelyn's sister, Helen Brenner later went to the morgue and identified her. She was cremated. Her ashes remain with family members. There was no funeral.
Suicide is considered by many people to be the most selfish thing you can do to yourself. Some consider suicide to be the most unforgivable sin because it is self-murder. I have had friends, family members, co-workers, and other close acquaintances who have killed themselves of attempted as such. It's not something I would do to myself because I know that it would not only kill me but those close to me.
You may notice, in future posts, that I seem to have a preoccupation with death. I have actually taken vacations to tour various famous cemeteries. As a teenager, when I realized I might never be the superstar tuba player I always wanted to be I considered working as a funeral director: In fact, I worked at a mortuary. The boss fired me after discovered that I failed high school biology twice.
So now I write biographies about people. I think we can learn so much. Have a great week!