Though suicide is a common element in tales of lost love and heartbreak, the subject usually ends it all because of a lover’s death or betrayal. However, there are exceptions. A tortured young woman said to haunt New York City’s Empire State Building took her life for an entirely different reason.
On May 1, 1947, 23-year-old Evelyn McHale leapt from the top of the Empire State Building. Her body landed on a United Nations limousine over a thousand feet below, obliterating the roof of the car and horrifying pedestrians passing by the iconic landmark.
The commotion drew photography student Robert Wiles who snapped a photo of McHale just minutes after her death (right). Though Evelyn plummeted 86 stories, or 1,050 feet, Wiles’ photo reveals a calm, beautiful corpse, eyes closed, fingers still clutching a pearl necklace. McHale looks as if she could be sleeping, but the limousine’s mangled roof and shattered glass tell a different story.
Wiles’ shocking photo ran in the May 12 issue of Life magazine with a caption that read “At the bottom of the Empire State Building, the body of Evelyn McHale reposes calmly in grotesque bier, her falling body punched into the top of a car.” Evelyn’s desperate act came to be known as “the most beautiful suicide” and newspapers around the world published the haunting image. The photo even inspired Andy Warhol’s Suicide (Fallen Body) serigraph, part of his Death and Disaster series.
So why did McHale leap to her death? She apparently didn’t think she was fit to be a wife. “He is much better off without me,” Evelyn wrote in a suicide note discovered at the scene. “I don’t think I would make a good wife for anybody.” The “he” in the note was Barry Rhodes, an ex-GI studying in Lafayette, PA. McHale and Rhodes had planned to marry the following month and the two had just celebrated Rhodes’ 24th birthday.
Though one might think Barry would have noticed something off about his young bride-to-be, he was as shocked as anyone, telling reporters “when I kissed her goodbye she was happy and as normal as any girl about to be married.” It seems McHale’s motives will forever remain a mystery.
Though it’s been over 60 years since Evelyn’s death, some believe she still haunts the Empire State Building. Visitors have spotted a distraught young woman dressed in clothing from the 1940s. Wearing bright red lipstick, the haunted looking woman reportedly paces the Observation Deck on the 86th floor, her eyes bright with tears. After a few minutes of fretful pacing, the mysterious woman rushes through the safety fence and jumps over the edge, much to the horror of observers.
In other versions of the tale, the distressed woman tells tourists that her husband died in Germany during the war and that she can’t imagine life without him. The result is the same. The tragic figure passes through the safety fence and leaps into the void. However, this story has an interesting twist. A few minutes after her terrifying jump, the woman reappears in another part of the Deck and acts out the frightening scene again. Judging from reports, the ghostly jumper is only visible to one person at a time, usually a woman.
Is the tortured jumper Evelyn McHale or a grieving woman from the same time period? It seems the identity of the leaping ghost, like Evelyn’s reasons for jumping, will remain a mystery.
Visit GhostStudy.com to view a ghost photo taken from observation deck of the Empire State Building.