. – . – .
The New Twelve – Evelyn McHale
Governor Clinton Hotel Restaurant, New York City, Thanksgiving, 1944.
This is my fifteenth Thanksgiving in the city. My tradition since 1930: Put on my clown costume, walk the length of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, searching for Evelyn. Then I have Thanksgiving dinner here in the hotel restaurant, alone but at a table reserved for four, just in case.
I see Evelyn and her family all the time, but only in my imagination. My last real sighting of Evelyn was on my sofa Friday morning, November 28, 1930. She is, or would be, 21 now.
. . .
New York Pioneer Offices, New York City, May 1, 1947, 8:43 am.
Robert C. Wiles watched the editor of the fledgling newspaper flip through the photography portfolio. Robert also waited for the “but”. There was always a “but” with his work.
Please not another offer to be a darkroom technician, Robert thought. I’m done with printing front-page images for other photographers.
(Wait for it…)
“But,” the Editor of the Pioneer said, “where’s the stopping power?” The editor closed the portfolio and slid it across the table toward Robert.
“The what,” Robert asked, blocking the folder from whacking him in the chest.
“Stopping power.” The editor leaned back in his squeaky chair and placed his hands behind his head.
“Some people have called my images great,” Robert said.
“They were being nice, kid. Family is like that. I’ve been in this business for a long time. You beat the big boys by cheating. I need images with stopping power. I need my gut punched.”
Yes you do, Robert thought. Desperation was a powerful motivator.
“Bottom line, I publish gut-punching, stopping-power photos. These ain’t them.”
Robert stared out the window.
“So,” the editor said, trying to end the interview for the second time. He leaned across the table toward Robert. “Come back when you can punch me in the gut.” The editor slapped his hand against the table.
The way you just did me, Robert thought. He picked up his portfolio, slung the strap of his ever-present camera across one shoulder, and walked out, not knowing what to try next.
. . .
Intersection of Fifth Avenue and 34th street, New York City, May 1, 1947, 10:38 am.
The Governor Clinton Hotel had no one registered under the name of Evelyn Francis McHale, or any combination I could think of. I’ve spent most of my life in suspension, dreading a date on the calendar.
It feels like my life has been wasted chasing a ghost. When not chasing, I’ve been waiting for the ghost to come to me. It’s as if I’ve stood in the middle of a busy intersection for years, looking up for a falling scarf to drop to earth and into my hands.
I don’t know what has changed in Evelyn’s life since we met, but I hope that my intrusion in it gave her something positive to cling to. I hope Evelyn grew up thinking of herself as The Most Beautiful, something she had not heard until she met me. I hope she will be known as anything besides The Most Beautiful Suicide.
Evelyn Francis McHale jumped off of the 86th floor observatory of the Empire State Building, or fell, or slipped trying to change her mind, at 10:40 am today. Or will she? It’s something I don’t want to know, but wish I did.
It’s now 10:39. I don’t want to look up to see a scarf lazily falling to the middle of the street. And if it were possible, I would choose to be blind and deaf, at least for the next minute or two.
. . .
Intersection of 34th Street and Fifth Avenue, New York City, May 1, 1947, 10:39 am.
On the walk back from The Pioneer, young photographer, Robert C. Wiles, reached the intersection and waited to cross. It was a busy spring morning in New York City, and Patrolman John Morrissey’s arms were getting a workout directing traffic.
As he waited for the safe whistle, Robert imagined making a gut-puncher photograph. “If only,” Robert said out loud. The commuters gathered around him and waited to cross, ignoring his mumblings.
Robert looked at the Empire State Building across the street. He traced the sky scraper’s structure, up to and beyond the observation deck on the 86th floor, and to the very top. In his imaginary image, an object had fallen a great distance, and he had been the first one to capture the impact.
Robert imagined a taxi cab in the middle of the intersection in front of him, roof crushed, almost in the driver’s lap. The cab driver was unhurt, but his head hung out of the window.
The cab driver was frozen in time, looking up, his left arm extended out the window, palm up. On the top of the cab was a huge wrecking ball that had fallen from a construction site.
Robert had been the one person with a camera that day, and a bidding war had begun for the photograph Robert would call, “Looks Like Rain.”
A car horn and a police whistle shocked Robert back to reality. Patrolman Morrisey gestured wildly with waving arms. An over-anxious taxi driver was being admonished by the patrolman.
Morrisey motioned to the crowd to cross. Robert pulled out his dad’s pocket watch and checked the time as he stepped off the sidewalk and onto the street. The time was 10:42. Just another dead morning in the big city.
Robert C. Wiles felt wind leave his sails. He wondered what to do with the rest of his life, now that he had gotten nowhere with his photography.
. . .
86th floor Observatory, Empire State Building, New York City, May 1, 1947, 5:43 pm.
“Boss, it’s Frank,” Detective Frank Murray spoke into the microphone of the service telephone in the maintenance room next to the elevator shaft behind the 86th floor observatory of the Empire State Building.“I’m back on top of the world,” Detective Murray yelled into the handset. “Fifth time in three weeks.”
The detective cradled the receiver between chin and shoulder blade. “What’s that? You gotta be kidding me. On my way.”
“Ma’am, thank you for calling this in,” Frank said to the only woman on the observation deck without a hat. She preferred not to look at the items she had found on the ledge, and what had happened as she stood there.
Detective Murray slipped a portfolio full of images under one arm, slung the strap of a camera over his shoulder, and headed for his next assignment, Room 721 of The Governor Clinton Hotel.
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