Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Empire State Building Ghost


Photo: Michael Slonecker

The iconic lights of the Empire State Building first lit up in 1931. Soaring 102 stories toward the sky the building when constructed was the tallest in the world.* The 1933 film King Kong made the Empire State Building even more famous. Today when the building is lit up at night it is still one of the most spectacular sights on New York City’s skyline. 

Unfortunately, along with its beauty, the building also has a very morbid history of suicides. ** Some believe one of these suicides is the reason a female ghost is seen on the buildings’ 86th-floor observation platform.

During the buildings’ history over 30 people have committed suicide by jumping. In 1947 alone, in a three-week period, five people committed suicide. One of these jumpers hit a pedestrian walking past on the street below. This and so many deaths in a short span of time resulted in an enclosed fence being built around the perimeter of the Empires State’s observation deck. “Suicide guards” were also hired to patrol the area. 

Evelyn McHale a 23-year-old woman was one of these five suicides. One legend states that it is most likely her ghost that is seen.

McHale served as a WAC *** during World War ll. Once she mustered out, she burnt her uniform. She moved to New York and became a bookkeeper. McHale lived with relatives in Long Island. She became engaged to a college student who was discharged from the Air Force. She spent her 23rd birthday with her fiancé, Barry Rhodes--staying through the night --the next morning she wrote a suicide note:

I don’t think I would make a good wife for anyone. 'Rhodes' will be better off without me. Tell my father, I have too many of my mother’s tendencies.”

McHale went to the Empire State Building where she placed her tan coat, black bag and a collection of family photos against the observation deck rail. She then jumped to her death landing on a United Nations Cadillac limousine on 33rd street. 

A photography student, Robert C. Wiley standing across the street heard the crash and rushed across to take a picture. His photo was published in Life Magazine in 1947, and the body was dubbed, “the most beautiful suicide”. Wiley’s photo depicted McHale’s body with a serene face, legs crossed at the ankle -- a pretty young woman who still wore her white gloves and pearls.

One compelling account of her tragic suicide was published in the Miami Daily News:

“Police said today that pretty Evelyn McHale tried to throw her past away piece by piece then threw herself off the Empire State Building because she was afraid of the future.

Somewhere within a three-hour period yesterday she decided that life was a bigger gamble than death.

Shortly before 10:00 a.m. she bought a ticket to the Empire State observation platform. She removed her tan topcoat and laid it neatly over the four-foot parapet. 

On that she placed a small brown make up kit and a black bag.

At 10:40 she jumped, her expensive rose-colored dress flashed through the mist as she plummeted past office windows. Her white scarf floated down lazily behind her and fell onto the face of a policeman.”


Wiley's photo of the body, it
 punched into the top of the limo--click to enlarge.
McHale took her life on the 16th anniversary of when the Empire State first opened. Some state the ghost that is seen is actually of a widow who committed suicide after World War ll. This woman it is said lost her lover in a battle in Germany. 

Regardless of which story resulted in this haunting-- a ghost of a pretty young woman is seen on the Empire’s observation deck. Witnesses state that this ghost talked to them, expressing sadness and then they saw her remove her coat and leap to her death through the barrier fence--as if it wasn’t even there.

This ghost is described as wearing old-fashioned 1940s style clothing. Female witnesses have reported that after seeing her jump, they then were even more shocked later to see her again in the woman’s restroom looking in a mirror and touching up her make-up. Some have followed her and seen her jump once more. It appears this ghost is doomed to reenact her final moments over and over again.


* The Empire State Building remained New York’s tallest building for forty years. With construction in 1971 of the World Trade Center towers it lost this distinction. But tragically after the September 2011 attacks, it once again was the tallest building in New York until 2012 when the construction on the One World Trade Center reached over 1,250 feet.

**  On the Golden Gate Bridge- there is a sign that provides a phone number to a crisis prevention hotline. Every structure that attracts suicides should provide this same service.

*** WAC stands for “Women's Army Corps”. During World War ll this was one-way women could serve in the military.

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