When I was a child, I stumbled upon this photograph in Life magazine that appeared to be that of a beautiful girl peacefully asleep. The fact that she was fully-dressed, if rather disheveled, supine against a layer of crumpled abstraction outlined with passersby, wasn’t clear to me. But her face caught my attention and dispelled any notion of actual horror: an expression of composure that was haunting. I was five or six years old and death was still unknown to me…mental anguish borne of ill-fated love was, of course, unimaginable.

Her name was Evelyn McHale; she was 23-years old (the NY Times reported that she was 20). On May 1, 1947, she jumped off the Empire State Building‘s observation deck on the 86th floor. She landed on a United Nations limousine parked at the curb at Thirty-third Street and Fifth Avenue, the impact staving the car’s metal body and shattering its windows. A photographer by the name of Robert Wiles, who was standing across the street, rushed to the scene. His photograph, less than four minutes after her fall, immortalized Evelyn in Life magazine and everywhere else it appeared.

She left behind an unfinished note which she crossed out; the typical overtone of suicide contained within its few words: “He’s much better off without me … I wouldn’t make a good wife for anybody.”  Apparently there wasn’t anything special about Evelyn’s life (her gray coat and a pocketbook containing family photos and a few dollars were found lying on the spot from where she jumped)…nothing special in her life but eternally beautiful in her death.

Source: “The Most Beautiful Suicide”

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