Celebrating 80 years of the Empire State Building

Soaring 1,454 feet above Midtown Manhattan, New York’s Empire State Building (ESB) is one of the most recognizable and beloved of the City’s many attractions and landmarks. On a clear day, you can see 80 miles across 5 states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania). On a quiet evening, you may encounter one or more of the many visitors and occupants of the iconic building that have never left.

Empire State Building
The Empire State Building is lit up with yellow lights on October 21 for Lights On Afterschool, the only nationwide rally for afterschool programs

It’s hardly surprising that in 80 years, the Empire State Building has acquired a few ghosts. If you’ve ever visited the building, you know it’s hard to leave. There’s something about the 200,00 cubic feet of Indiana limestone and granite, or maybe the 730 tons of aluminum and stainless steel topped by a broadcast antenna and lightening rod that inevitably sparks the imagination.

Whatever the reason, the ESB has it’s share of haunts. According to the Long Island Paranormal Investigators (LIPI), an organization founded in  2003 that investigates urban legends and ghost stories around the Long Island region, 14 documented suicides have been attempted from the observation deck of the building. The first, a laid off construction worker, occurred before the Empire State Building was even completed. During a three-week period in 1947, 5 people committed suicide by leaping from the Observation deck including, presumably the ESB’s most famous ghost, a World War II widow dressed in 1940’s attire. Two years earlier, in 1945, a B-25 bomber crashed into the structure killing 14 people. It is said the spirits of those who have leapt to their deaths haunt the Observatory and have even been seen reliving their fatal plunge.

One of the most widely publicized suicides was that of Evelyn McHale. Contemporary news reports indicate she was the sixth of the 26 person who had leapt to their death from the ESB by 2 May, 1947. The Miami Daily News described her plunge this way:

“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 10:30 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 flashing through the mist as she plummeted past office windows. Her white scarf floated down lazily behind her and fell on the face of a policeman.”

It is interesting to note that while Miss McHale is not the haunting widow her death, which occurred on the 16th anniversary of the opening of the Empire State Building did influence the future. Her’s was the first of a spate of suicides resulting in the construction of a perimeter fence encompassing the observation deck. In addition, the photo taken by Robert C. Wiley in 1947 is said to have inspired Andy Warhol’s work entitled Suicide decades later. The Parenthetical Girls, an indie-pop band from Portland, recorded a song titled Evelyn Hale in 2010.

Today, 1 May,  2011, the Empire State building celebrates its 80th birthday as a modern engineering marvel. A few haunts can’t take that away for the magnificent edifice that was built over 7 million man hours (1 year, 45 days) beginning in March 1930 and ending when President Herbert Hoover pressed a button in Washington, D.C. to officially open the Empire State Building on 1 May, 1931.  Today this extraordinary edifice reigns as the tallest building in New York City and the largest commercial purchaser of 100 percent renewable energy.

“On this significant anniversary, the Empire State Building celebrates 80 years of being an international symbol of innovation and ingenuity,” said Anthony E. Malkin of the Empire State Building Company. “Through an award-winning renovations and modernization project, the world’s most famous office building offers unmatched experiences to both its tenants and the millions who visit the Observatories each year.”

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