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THE UNSTOPPABLE EVELYN MCHALE, MAY 1, 1947 • by Jason Stout

It is only a Thursday, yet Evelyn wears her pearls.

Her fiance had given her the pearls two weeks ago when she visited him at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. He was on the GI Bill and she knew he couldn’t have afforded them on his own. His parents must have helped, but she was smart enough not to ask. She adored the double strand necklace, and would cherish it for the rest of her life.

Other than the pearls, though, the four-day visit to Lafayette had not gone all that well. He said he was unhappy that she worked as a bookkeeper in Manhattan. In truth, she knew, it was the young male executives she worked with every day that raised his ire.

On the third night, after she left him at his dormitory and returned to the all-girl hotel where he insisted she stay, she tried to write in her journal. As she sat on the bed, all she managed was: “He is much better off without me.”

She crossed it out and sat on the bed, looking out the small window to the street below.
She wanted to write how she really felt. Maybe about the time one of her instructors from the community college asked her out to a show. Her fiance was still overseas back then, and she saw nothing untoward about getting to know her teachers outside the classroom. They saw a show at Radio City, but when it was over, the night was still so young. So he asked her if she’d like to go to Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem.

Imagine, Evelyn wanted to write, a girl like her going to Harlem late at night to hear the successors of Charlie Christian. And on the taxi ride home, when her teacher leaned close to kiss her, she didn’t stop him. One kiss, she thought, could have led to so much more. But she stopped at one kiss.

It wasn’t the kiss that had gotten into her veins. It was the four thousand people bumping and shoving to get into Radio City, past the coat check and into the dark theater. It was the sweat at Minton’s and the Pall Malls and the late-night jazz. It was buying bagels from the same cart every morning on her way to work. It was her own job and her own money and her own life. That is what she wanted to write, but she didn’t.

Instead, she wrote, “I wouldn’t make a good wife for anybody.”

She again crossed it out. She tore the page out of the journal, wadded it up and threw it across the room.

As she got ready for bed that night, she thought about her mother. Dutiful, pleasant, hard working. She thought how often her mother told her she needed to stop being silly, settle down, get serious. Life, her mother said, requires discipline, not romantic ideals. She vowed, as she nodded off, to make the last day with her fiance happy for them both.

They started the day with a light picnic on campus, walked down to the Lafayette Arch, then up to the Northampton Street Bridge. Halfway across the bridge, her fiance turned to Evelyn, held her hand and said, “I want you to stop working in the city. Actually, what I mean is, I want us to get married sooner than we had planned. We can apply for married couple’s housing at the college.”

Evelyn held on to his hand.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “I thought we had this all worked out. We were going to wait until you were finished with school.”

“I can’t stand us being apart like this. I thought you’d be happy.”

“I am happy,” she said. “It’s just a big change in plans is all.”

“I know it is,” he said. “In fact, I thought you should probably go ahead and quit your job. Maybe get a job here in Easton until the wedding.”

“Quit my job? Already?”

“Yes, I want you to stop working by the first of the month.”

Remembering the vow she’d made to herself, Evelyn agreed and their last hours together were, if not exciting, at least pleasant.

But today is now Thursday, the first of the month, and she is in the city. She has not returned any of her fiance’s telegrams. She gave notice at work two weeks ago when she returned from Easton, so there is no job for her to go to. Still she is walking the streets of Manhattan in the early, misty morning as if it were any other day. She carries her pocketbook with a few dollars, a make-up case. She wears her pearls, her white gloves. As she walks, she puts one hand in her jacket pocket and feels the crumbled-up paper she had picked up off the hotel floor. The jacket is her favorite, light gray wool, and she probably wears it too often.

It is Thursday, May 1, and Evelyn takes the elevator to the 86th floor observation platform of the Empire State Building. There is only a small fence, a minor setback, and 1000 feet between her and the city streets below. She removes her jacket and hangs it on the fence. She puts down her pocketbook and her make-up kit that is full of family photographs.

“Romantic ideals,” Evelyn says to herself. “What’s life without romantic ideals?”

It is Thursday, May 1, 1947, and, holding on to her pearls like a talisman, Evelyn McHale becomes unstoppable.

_____

Author’s Note: On May 1, 1947, photography student Robert Wiles heard a thunderous crash and hurried to take an iconic picture that ended up in Life Magazine.  The picture was of 20-year old Evelyn McHale. That picture inspired this story and is readily available on the internet by googling for images tagged “Evelyn McHale”.


Jason Stout lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife and 5 children. His works have appeared in:  Every Day Fiction, Flashquake, Shine!; and Pequin.  Additional information is available at: jasonstout.jimdo.com.


This story was sponsored by Flash Fiction Chronicles. Flash Fiction Chronicles is the best site online to discuss flash fiction with top authors in the field.


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THE UNSTOPPABLE EVELYN MCHALE, MAY 1, 1947 • by Jason Stout, 4.0 out of 5 based on 174 ratings
Posted on October 5, 2008 in Literary, Stories
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  • http://nowplayinginseattle.blogspot.com/ K.C. Ball

    Very nice, Jason.

    I know the picture well. I have a copy of it framed on the wall over my writing desk. It is a powerful and haunting image, and I wrote my own take on it a while back; the story title is From a Height.

  • http://www.leatherdyke.co.uk Rachel Green

    Fabulous story.

  • http://users.beagle.com.au/peterl P.M.Lawrence

    When you think about it, you realise she wasn’t unstoppable, was she?

  • http://nowplayinginseattle.blogspot.com/ K.C. Ball

    That’s called irony, P.M.

  • http://fright-fest.blogspot.com Cate

    I’m very glad I took a moment to read this morning’s story. I hadn’t heard of Evelyn McHale and of course the first thing I did after reading this was google the photograph.

    Excellent work.

  • http://www.rumjhumbiswas.com rumjhum

    This too is an iconic story. Thank you Jason.

  • http://www.writewords.org.uk/oonah/ Oonah V Joslin

    That photograph is so terrible I cried. I have to say I don’t like romantic ideals myself. Wish she’d heeded her mother. So sad an end.
    Thank you, Jason.

  • Jen

    Wow, I never knew about the photo until I Googled. Such a sad circumstance, but you wrote a wonderful story around it.

  • tiffany

    beautiful!

  • Robin

    What a sad story. Very well done.

  • http://www.shamelesscreations.com Kevin Shamel

    Good one, Jason. I didn’t know her name, but as I was reading, that photo came into my mind. Then I read your explanation and I knew it must be the one I’d thought of. Very nice.

    Again, you’ve taken a real world moment, expounded upon it and twisted it just a little. And in an excellent story. Thanks!

  • Celeste goschen

    A superbly written story and thanks for sharing such an extraordinary image with us. Your story echoed her demise beautifully.

  • Miriam Buffington

    Excellent!

  • http://www.erinmkinch.com Erin

    I’d never heard of her or seen the photo until your story. She’s been on my mind all day. That’s the mark of a compelling story.

  • http://hellostephanie.net Steph

    I’m so glad I took the time to read this one–one of the best stories I’ve read lately. That photo is amazing and sad–she looks so at peace among the distorted, crushed car. Unbelievable!

  • Bob

    Outstanding a 5 from me.

  • Jdoyen

    Exceptional although very sad also Jason.

  • http://patriciahale.blogspot.com Patricia J. Hale

    Spellbinding.

  • Gerard Demayne

    Great last line. But…

  • Elizabeth Allen

    It is so sad she thought that was her only way out. In 1947 women didn’t have the options they have today. very well done and very believable.

  • gay

    Jason, I really like this story. I don’t really understand how you continue to tell a woman’s viewpoint so well. Many men can, but when they get it right, it always impresses. And you got it right.

  • Missie

    I really liked it, Jason! Great job!

  • http://www.theperfectblogtitle.blogspot.com/ Rena Sherwood

    Holy sh** (and I mean that as a compliment)

  • Marion Schwartz

    Where did you get all of the background information, or is this story fabricated?

  • http://jasonstout.jimdo.com Jason Stout

    Thanks for all of the comments everyone. They are much appreciated.

    Marion – The story is “fabricated,” but I used some real-life facts in it.

    For example, Evelyn did have a fiance who she visited shortly before May 1, 1947. Who the fiance was or what transpired during that meeting, I don’t know. The authorities also recovered a jacket, a pocketbook and a makeup case on the observation deck. Finally, the authorities found a note that is similar to the one in the story. I gathered these facts from internet research, including a NY Times article and a wikipedia article.

    The rest is completely made up.

  • Marion Schwartz

    Thanks, Jason, for the information. You did a great job! Her story is so moving and unforgettable, and the photo is incredible, but I would take the story on a different track! I don’t even know why I am so intrigued with the story and the photo!

  • jennifer walmsley

    Sad and compelling. Enjoyed the read very much.

  • Frank

    Jason, this was a good take on Evelyn McHale’s last days. The photograph has haunted me ever since I saw it. Like you, I’ve searched for as much info as possible, but the NY Times article is all I’ve found. It’s very strange not knowing the whole story. But you’ve done a great job fictionalizing it.

  • Amanda

    Jason I would love a copy of your story. I am fascinated with this picture I have grown up looking at and wondering about. I have heard many stories about Evelyn. I have deep ties to the picture being that she was my grandfathers sister. I enjoyed reading your take on how her last days were spent.

  • http://theanksden.wordpress.com/ @nks

    i came across the picture … then searched bout her … and ended up hear … glad i did that … loved the story …

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  • Cherie

    This is haunting, as if I’ve seen into a diary of the last weeks of her life. Well done.

  • anthony barcena

    My uncle was a photo student in New York where he lived at the time with my father and grandmother. He was there that day and also took several shots. I own a extensive camera collection and when he died he left me the camera that he to the photos of her that day. He also left me the original prints of the photos and they resemble the photo published in Life. I was told that before people started to take pictures a lady in the crowd pulled her dress back down show she would be “decent”……….Anthony Barcena, Colonial Heights, Virginia

  • Kelly

    Excellent piece about the final days of Evelyn McHale. Thanks for this.

  • Frank

    What a sad story. Evelyn McHale was only 20 years old with her whole life ahead of her. I have an aunt that worked in the ESB when the B-25 crashed into it in ’45. Im not sure if she was working when poor Evelyn jumped to her death. So sad.

  • kathy

    Evelyn Francis McHale was born in Berkeley California Sept 20, 1923. She was the next to the youngest of seven children, the first four children were spaced 1 year apart, the last three were spaced 2 years apart. There was also a stepsister from her mother’s previous marriage.
    Her father Vincent, was a bank examiner, orig from Illinois, her mother, Helen, orig from Pa, was a housewife.
    Around 1930, they moved to Washington, DC, where her father became an examiner for the Federal Land Bank. Also at this time the mother left, moving to an apartment in another part of Washington.
    The father retained custody of all seven children. Evelyn was 6. Whether the mother left voluntarily or was told to leave is unknown at his time.
    They appear to have moved a few years later to Tuckahoe NY, where Evelyn went to high school.
    After high school, in 1943, Evelyn became a WAC and was stationed down in Jefferson Mo.
    After she was discharged, she burned her uniform.
    At some point, she moved to NYC to work, and met and became engaged to a young man named Barry Rhodes, who was just out of the Air Force and attending Lafayette College in Easton Pa. They were to be married at his brother’s house in Troy, NY.
    A year before her death, Evelyn had been a bridesmaid at Barry’s younger brother’s wedding. After the wedding, she removed her bridesmaid gown, said “I never want to see this again” and burned it.
    On the day she jumped, Barry said she seemed happy and looking forward to the marriage when she boarded the train home. Barry’s birthday being April 30th, I assume Evelyn had gone to celebrate his birthday with him.
    There was a security guard less than twelve feet from where she jumped. She dropped her handkerchief over the ledge just prior to climbing over and leaping to her death.
    In her suicide note, she wrote the following:
    ” My fiance asked me to marry him in June, but I don’t think I would make a good wife for anyone. He is much better off without me. Tell my father, I have too many of my mother’s tendencies. I don’t want anyone in or out of my family to see any part of me. Could you destroy my body by cremation? I beg of you and my family -don’t have any service or remembrance for me.”
    As per her request, she was cremated.
    All of the above were facts I found on ancestry.com. Any questions contact me at kmeccat@yahoo.com

  • rose Mchale

    this was a relation of mine and i was not expecting to find this when i googled my grandma,does anyone know if that body was identified as Miss McHale as i don’t think that was her. im affraid i cannot ask my grandmother this as she is deceased but i have a feeling that this body wasn’t evelyn mchale.

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  • http://anitasnotebook.com I love stories

    Jason, Someone sent me a link to your story and now I can see why. I just wanted to say that I liked your story a lot and I think you did a great job on it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kelliemurray65 Kellie

    Yes, she was identified by her sister.

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  • D.U.H.

    And that is called sarcasm, ha!

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