• Weird History

The Story Behind Evelyn McHale And "The Most Beautiful Suicide"

Since the completion of the Empire State Building in 1931, at least 36 people have sought out the top floors of the building to commit suicide – with Evelyn McHale's jump being perhaps the most infamous. On the morning of May 1, 1947, just before 11 am, a traffic director who was working at the intersection of 34th Street and Fifth Avenue happened to look up and notice a white scarf drifting down from the side of the Empire State Building when, suddenly, he heard a large crash, and chaos ensued within the streets. He then followed a crowd of passerbys to a limousine parked along the curb – upon which the body of Evelyn McHale was found, having completed the "Most Beautiful Suicide."

Despite the eerily uncertain circumstances surrounding her suicide, it is not her death that has gained her such notable infamy, but, instead, the way she was found: softly enveloped within the wreckage of the car, ankles crossed effortlessly, and face serenely calm as she clutched her necklace in one white-gloved hand. The morbidity of the scene was forever encapsulated in one photograph, depicting the delicate tranquility with which this woman met her end.

However, the question remains: Why did Evelyn – a young woman who was newly engaged and who had a loving family – choose to end her life on that Thursday morning?

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  • She Served In The Women's Army Corps 

    Evelyn McHale joined the Women's Army Corps in Jefferson, MO, after she graduated High School. She is listed as office machine operator. Once her service ended, she reportedly destroyed her uniform with fire. There is little information documenting her motivation for ruining the clothes associated with her time in Missouri. 

    After her service she moved to Baldwin, NY, where she lived with her brother and sister-in-law. She worked as a bookkeeper for the Kitab Engraving company located in Manhattan and met her finance Barry Rhodes at a New Year's Eve party in 1945. Rhodes had also served in the army and was working toward becoming an engineer. The couple planned to be married in June 1947, one month after McHale's passing. 

    • She Was Skeptical About Marriage

      McHale was skeptical about becoming Rhode's wife. She attended his brother's wedding as a bridesmaid in 1946, one year before her own ceremony was supposed to take place. After the wedding, Rhode's recalled that she tore off her dress and said, "I never want to see this again."

      He further explained that, "She [worried] for some silly reason because she was afraid she was not good enough to be my wife. I thought I talked her out of that silly notion." 

      McHale said in her final note that she didn't think she "would make a good wife for anybody." 

      • Andy Warhol Turned Her Photo Into Pop Art

        For his 1962 series, Death and Disaster, Andy Warhol appropiated Robert Wiles photograph into a blue and black silkscreen painting. Alongside paintings of infamous wrecks and an electric chair, Warhol turned McHale's image into pop art.

        In an interview with ARTnews in 1963, he explained that he created the series in which McHale's photo is adapted because "when you see a gruesome picture over and over, it doesn't really have any effect."