The Empire State of Leap, 1947

In the movie Stranger than Fiction, one character talks about suicide: “There’s a photograph in the book called The Leaper. It’s old, but it’s beautiful. From above the corpse of a woman who’d just leapt to her death. There’s blood around her head, like a halo… and her leg’s buckled underneath, her arm’s snapped like a twig, but her face is so serene, so at peace. And I think it’s because when she died, she could feel the wind against her face.”

They may or may not be talking about the above photo: Life Magazine’s Picture of the Week on May 12, 1947, and was also reprinted in The Best of Life. Andy Warhol used this photo in his work Suicide (Fallen Body) (See below), and Machines of Loving Grace put a recreation of the photo in their album cover for Gilt. There are also some colored versions of this photo, which remind me of one of those Tamara de Lempicka paintings.

The photo was taken on May Day, 1947 at the bottom of the Empire State Building. Photography student, Richard Wiles, was across the street, and heard a loud crash. He rushed to the scene and took the photo four minutes after one Evelyn McHale jumped off from the Observation Deck. Like the movie said, the picture is sad, but it is simultaneously serene. It isn’t full of gore, and Evelyn looked as if she was sleeping. Her calm repose contrasted greatly from the grotesque wreckage of a bier she herself created beneath her.

Life magazine wrote at the time: “On May Day, just after leaving her fiancé, 23-year-old Evelyn McHale wrote a note. ‘He is much better off without me … I wouldn’t make a good wife for anybody,’ … Then she crossed it out. She went to the observation platform of the Empire State Building. Through the mist she gazed at the street, 86 floors below. Then she jumped. In her desperate determination she leaped clear of the setbacks and hit a United Nations limousine parked at the curb.”

Read the story on the Empire State Building’s Observation Desk here.


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50 thoughts on “The Empire State of Leap, 1947

  1. Sometimes people who commit suicide are very happy in the weeks leading up to thier deaths. I experienced this with a very good friend. She had been depressed over the breakup of her marriage but then seemed to lighten up and was back to her old self. I vividly remember how shocked I was when I was told she had hung herself. I still dont understand it.

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  3. I LOVE Stranger than Fiction — it’s a hypnotic cult movie for me, and I’ve been meaning to read its screenplay, for — seriously — forever. Now, sitting outside The Opera House (coffee shop) near the City Market of my newly re-adopted city of Kansas City, (after taking a brand-new streetcar), I’m doing just that. Which leads me to finally — finally! — look up the horribly breathtaking photo of The Leaper … which in turn brings me to this blog. I feel [almost] as if I’m Harold Crick, having gotten off streamlined mass-transportation … while hearing the voice of a narrator (your blog). Thanks for posting this historic photo, sharing a love for such a fun movie, and completing an ancient/modern storyline for me!

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