I saw the photograph above (1st image, taken in 1947) for the first time yesterday. Because of it, Evelyn McHale achieved a small amount of fame - but only posthumously. Despite the calm expression on her face, the 20-year-old had just taken her own life. She is shown on the crushed roof of the limousine on which she landed after jumping from the Empire State Building (2nd image, taken in 1954). “
Following its publication in Life Magazine, the photo - taken by student Robert Wiles just 4 minutes after her death - continues to spark: from a print by Andy Warhol in 1963 to an essay by Max Page in 2006, a short story by Jason Stout in 2008, a song by Parenthetical Girls in 2010... "[I]t's clear that I'm not the only one who's been moved by this photo over the years," writes another blogger. "I wonder what Evelyn would think if she knew that people born 35 years after her death would be touched by the image of her final sad, defiant act." Defined by her death, Evelyn McHale left little in the public record about her life. According to her obituary, her fiance was an ex-GI attending college who she had visited the day before, her profession was as a bookkeeper for an engraving company, and her body was identified by her sister with whom she lived on Long Island.
When I was thinking of subjects for my master's thesis, I considered examining what 3 literary suicides were communicating by their method. English writer Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) filled her pockets with stones and walked into the river; American photographer Diane Arbus (1923-1971) sedated herself, slashed her wrists, and curled up in the bathtub; and American author Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) put her head in the oven. When I mentioned the idea to the brilliant and inspiring man who agreed to be my thesis advisor, Michael Macovski, he immediately replied, "Ah, the body as suicide note."