The Childbearing Hips of Evelyn McHale

There are big holes in my knowledge of punk rock. In a lot of cases, I’ll recognize the name of a band without knowing a single song they recorded. An example is Saccharine Trust. The band recently came up in my Facebook feed so I first looked them up on Wikipedia and then listened to their first LP on YouTube. I made it through the full 39 minutes with mixed feelings. The jazzy parts were interesting but not as compelling as the Minutemen. The vocalist reminded me a little of Henry Rollins, but a little too much of Kickboy from Catholic Discipline. I think I’ll need to give it another listen at some point, maybe while naked and covered in body paint, and doing the kind of dance that no one should have to see.

Cool album cover though. It showed Evelyn McHale, the woman who famously did a swan dive off the Empire State Building and landed on a parked car in 1947. I knew the picture well, having looked at it many times as a child in a large coffee-table book called The Best of Life. Containing Life Magazine photos from the mid-1930s to the early 1970s, it was an odd title because much of it was a showcase of human misery. This period of history had plenty of misery to go around. War, disasters, poverty, you name it. Since I had yet to reach puberty, this was the closest thing I had to porn. I remember one pic of a baby in Vietnam with his butt blown off. That tickled my little heart.

And of course, there was Evelyn McHale. She was very good-looking, considering, I’m guessing far easier on the eyes than Kurt Cobain after his suicide. With the outfit and hair, she reminded me of Lois Lane with the external subdued elegance of Phyllis Coates or Noel Neill and the internal crazy of Margot Kidder. In mid-century America, you kept up appearances even when killing yourself. Today she would likely be clad in a t-shirt advertising Cats or The Book of Mormon, or maybe one with the words “I’m with sane” above an arrow pointing to the side.

I do remember how wide her hips were and did not know if she was naturally built like that or if they were an artifact of the splat. I still don’t know. My recent searches to find a full-body shot of her before the jump have not been fruitful. I had not planned on using the information to body shame her, just so we’re clear on that.

It probably took her 10 seconds to land. This assumes an unobstructed plummet from 1,000 feet up. If her descent was a sort of extreme parkour with her bouncing off a few ledges along the way, some additional time would need to be added. In any event, she was moving plenty fast when she hit that vehicle. Another 500 feet and she would have reached terminal velocity. Objects falling faster than that usually come from space and burn up in the atmosphere.

Culturally, Evelyn McHale had a big impact (get it?) on more than just Saccharine Trust and preteen me. Andy Warhol created art with Evelyn McHale, 16 of her to be exact. According to Wikipedia, which usually has my unquestioning trust, both David Bowie and Taylor Swift reference her by falling and landing on a car in a music video. If I am to accept that, do we also include the hapless evil henchmen in Jason Statham movies whose falling bodies total vehicles and set off car alarms, often in slo-mo?

Maybe all of this is to be included, which I doubt Evelyn McHale would much have liked. In her suicide note, she requested that she be cremated with no memorial service. Based on that, she did not want to leave a legacy of any kind. Then again, she did pick the most famous building in the country as the spot to leave this world so she really was leaving mixed messages.

Perhaps she wanted to make a bold statement but do it anonymously, like Banksy. That’s kind of hard to pull off when you’re sprawled out on a bed of crumpled metal with liquified innards and the stigma of mental illness. If I were there, I would give an eyewitness account to divert attention away from Evelyn McHale. I would say a tampon was forced out of her when she hit, that it flew across the street like a baseball line dive and went through the window of an Italian restaurant and into a plate of spaghetti. And that the reason there is no evidence of that is because the string got wrapped up by a twirling fork and sent it all down the diner’s gullet, just one more chunk of pasta and marinara. That’s what I would say.

So chillax, Evelyn. I got you.

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