Evelyn McHale: The Story Behind the Haunting Image from the Empire State Building

Last updated: August 25, 2023

The story of Evelyn McHale, known as "the most beautiful suicide," is a tragic tale that remains an enduring part of New York City's history. Evelyn McHale, a young and seemingly content bookkeeper, jumped to her death from the Empire State Building in 1947. Her shocking demise and the haunting photograph that captured it continue to captivate and confound people around the world. This article delves into the story of Evelyn McHale, her life, the unfortunate incident, and the legacy she inadvertently left behind.

Evelyn McHale Illustration

About Evelyn McHale

Evelyn McHale was born on September 20, 1923, into a family of seven children. Her parents, Vincent and Helen McHale, lived in Berkeley, California, at her birth. However, they later relocated to Tuckahoe, New York, where Evelyn was raised. Described by those who knew her as attractive, intelligent, and reserved, she was also noted to be somewhat of a tomboy, preferring outdoor activities to more traditional feminine pursuits.

After graduating from high school, Evelyn joined the Women's Army Corps during World War II, serving as a corporal in the Medical Corps. Following her service, she moved to Baldwin, New York, and found employment as a bookkeeper with the Kitab Engraving Company in New York City. Around the same time, she became engaged to a college student named Barry Rhodes.

Despite her seemingly content life, Evelyn was battling with inner demons. Her parents' divorce profoundly impacted her, and her mother's remarriage to a man named Carl Adams further complicated family dynamics. On April 30, 1947, the day before her suicide, she reportedly visited Rhodes in Easton, Pennsylvania, where he studied at Lafayette College. During this visit, Rhodes later reported that Evelyn seemed in good spirits, showing no signs of the tragic action she would soon undertake.

A Tragic Incident

On May 1, 1947, Evelyn McHale went to the Empire State Building. At approximately 10:40 AM, she purchased a ticket to the observation deck on the 86th floor. Once there, she removed her coat, neatly folded it, and placed it along with her purse, which contained a suicide note, on the deck. She then climbed over the protective railing and jumped.

Evelyn's fall was witnessed by several people, including a photography student named Robert Wiles, who was on the street below. He quickly took a photo of the aftermath, which showed Evelyn in an eerily serene repose, surrounded by the twisted wreckage of a United Nations Assembly Cadillac limousine onto which she had fallen.

Her suicide note, found in her purse on the observation deck, read: "He is much better off without me... I wouldn’t make a good wife for anybody." The note suggested a sense of self-loathing and despair but did not explain her decision.

The incident was widely reported in the media, with the photograph taken by Wiles appearing in the May 12, 1947 edition of "Life" magazine. The image, often referred to as "The Most Beautiful Suicide," made Evelyn McHale an iconic figure in the history of the Empire State Building.

Public Response and Media Coverage

Evelyn McHale's death profoundly impacted public and media perception of suicides from the Empire State Building. The photograph Robert Wiles took, which depicted Evelyn in a seemingly peaceful state amid the destruction, challenged common perceptions of such tragedies. The haunting image became the center of numerous discussions and debates, sparking conversations about mental health, suicide, and societal pressures.

Media coverage at the time was extensive due to the shocking nature of the event. The photograph, in particular, was published in the May 12, 1947, issue of Life Magazine under the title "The Most Beautiful Suicide." This controversial title further fueled discussions and debates about the event and its portrayal in the media. The image also inspired artists, writers, and filmmakers, leading to its inclusion in various creative works over the years.

However, the extensive media coverage and the continued fascination with her death have also drawn criticism. Critics argue that such attention can glorify suicide and contribute to suicide contagion, particularly among vulnerable individuals.

Evelyn's death also increased calls for better protective measures at the Empire State Building to prevent such tragedies. This tragic incident and others led to installing higher fences and other protective measures in the following years.

Legacy of Evelyn McHale

Evelyn McHale's untimely death and the following eerie photograph left an indelible mark on the world. Today, her story is a poignant reminder of the hidden struggles that many people face and the devastating outcomes that can result.

Evelyn's suicide became a symbol of post-war despair, illustrating the personal struggles hidden beneath the surface of a society eager to return to normalcy after the devastation of World War II. Her tragic end starkly contrasted the optimism and prosperity that characterized the post-war era, a contradiction that made her story all the more compelling and heartbreaking.

The image of Evelyn McHale, seemingly peaceful amid the wreckage, remains one of the most famous and unsettling photographs of the 20th century. It continues to captivate audiences and has found a place in various media and popular culture, from books and films to visual arts.

In many ways, Evelyn's legacy is tied to our understanding and conversation about mental health. The ongoing fascination with her death serves as a reminder of the need for more open dialogues about mental health and suicide prevention. It's a testament to the importance of reaching out to those suffering in silence and offering support and understanding.

However, Evelyn's story also warns about the potential consequences of sensationalizing suicide. It's a reminder of the need to approach such topics with sensitivity, focusing on the tragic end, the life that preceded it, and the lessons that can be learned from it.

Above all, Evelyn McHale's story is a human one. Despite her tragic end, her legacy encourages us to look beyond the surface and recognize many people's complex and often hidden struggles. In doing so, we can work towards a more compassionate and understanding society.


The story of Evelyn McHale, the woman who jumped off the Empire State Building, remains one of the most haunting tales in New York City's history. While her life was tragically cut short, her story continues to captivate people worldwide, symbolizing the hidden struggles that many people grapple with. Her legacy is a stark reminder of the importance of mental health awareness and the need for compassion and understanding in our society. Despite the sensationalism surrounding her memory, it's crucial to remember Evelyn not just for the manner of her death but for the human story it represents. It calls for empathy, understanding, and ongoing dialogue about mental health and suicide prevention.

Resources for Help

If you or anyone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, it's essential to reach out for help. In the United States, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline can be reached at 988.

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