The photo of Evelyn McHale is a pop culture icon and a symbol of tragic beauty.
Evelyn Francis McHale was born in Berkeley, California, in September 1923, the 6th of 7 children born to Vincent and Helen McHale. In 1930, the family moved to Washington D.C. for Vincent’s job and initially lived in an apartment building on the 2500 block of Massachusetts Avenue. That same year, Heleb McHale left the family. Evelyn finished her grammar school education in DC. She finished high school in Tuckahoe, New York when the family moved there nine years later.
After graduation, Evelyn joined the Women’s Army Corps, and was stationed uneventfully in Jefferson, Missouri. It was reported by friends that when she left the Corps, she burned her uniform for no known reason.
She then moved to Baldwin, New York, on Long Island, where she lived with her brother and his wife and worked as a bookkeeper at the Kitab Engraving Company on Pearl Street in the Financial District of Manhattan.
At that time she met Barry Rhodes, a former Airman who was studying on the GI Bill at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, about an hour and a half away from New York. They were engaged and otherwise happy but Rhodes noted that a certain unexplainable gloominess hung over young Evelyn. He recalled that in 1946, Evelyn served as a bridesmaid in Barry’s brother’s wedding. After the ceremony she took of her dress and said “I never want to see this again,” and burned it.
On April 30, 1947, Evelyn took the train from New York to Easton to visit Barry for his 24th birthday. At the end of the day he took her back to the station and kissed her goodbye “When I kissed her goodbye” he said “she was happy and as normal as any girl about to be married.”
When Evelyn arrived in Manhattan, she left Penn Station and walked across the street and paid for a room at the Governor Clinton Hotel at 31st Street and 7th Avenue and wrote a suicide note that 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.”
She placed the note in her purse and at 10:30 AM, she walked to the Empire State Building, bought a ticket to the 86th-floor observatory, took off her coat and placed it along with her pocketbook on the floor against the railing and jumped to her death 1,000 feet below. She was 23 years old.
Patrolman John Morrissey who was directing traffic at 34th Street and 5th Avenue said he recalled a white scarf fluttering down from the the tower and moments later there was the sound of a terrific crash that sounded like an explosion.
Poor Evelyn crashed on her back clutching a strand of pearls at her neck. She looked as if she were resting peacefully. The car she landed on belonged to the United Nations Assembly. Robert C. Wiles, a young photography student happened to be across the street at the time of the fall and he snapped Evelyn’s photo 4 minutes after her crash.