The photo of the 23 year old beautiful woman Evelyn McHale. Not much is known of her life, or of her final hours, but the photo of her death has lived on for decades as "the most beautiful suicide."
Evelyn McHale was a bookkeeper in New York City with a promising future. She was born in Berkeley, California, one of nine children born to Helen and Vincent McHale. Her father was a bank examiner who relocated to Washington, D.C. in 1930. Her mother suffered from undiagnosed and untreated depression. This led to a challenging marriage, and ultimately a divorce. Vincent gained custody of all children and moved to Tuckahoe, New York.
After graduating from high school, McHale joined the Women's Army Corps and was stationed in Jefferson City, Missouri. She later moved to Baldwin, New York, and was employed as a bookkeeper at the Kitab Engraving Company on Pearl Street. She met her fiance Barry Rhodes, a college student discharged from the United States Army Air Force.
Evelyn loved to dress up in elegant 40’s fashions, always sporting that nice little neat classic strand of pearls around her supple neck as she walked in her little open-toed pumps through the streets of Manhattan. She had just spent a pleasant evening at her fiance’s apartment, and now it was time to head off to work. She boarded the bus but exited prematurely, long before the city bus would arrive at her work building.
Instead, she got off at the entrance to New York’s tallest building where she then rode the elevator to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building. It was a breezy, pleasant day May 1, 1947. Reaching the outdoor deck, where a few onlookers stood by, she scribbled a quick note, removed her coat, laid her purse and the note on top of her coat, and then jumped to her death.
She landed on top of a limousine, and four minutes later, a budding photographer who just happened to be across the street, snapped her elegant suicide photo. The note she had left on the 86th deck 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."
Evelyn had felt devastated, and her world destroyed, when her parents had divorced when she was merely seven years old. Apparently, she never recovered from that childhood trauma. Her sister, who identified her body at the morgue, honored her wishes.
She was, indeed, cremated and has no gravesite But she is forever remembered. The iconic photo of her freshly dead body, as though she lay asleep on top of that limousine car, clutching her strand of pearls, remains famous forever as the most beautiful portrait of suicide.
The photo of Evelyn body, taken by Robert Wiles, has been compared to the photograph by Malcolm Wilde Browne of the self-immolation of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức, who burned himself alive at a busy Saigon road intersection on June 11, 1963; both are widely regarded as being among the most iconic suicide photographs.