by Lauren Anne Rice

Tempe, AZ Book
4% funded

A narrative nonfiction novel about the life and death of Evelyn McHale, deemed "The Most Beautiful Suicide"

Biography, Historical Fiction, History, Literary Fiction, Nonfiction, Photography, Psychology, Young Adult
Page Length:
100 - 250 Pages
Book Status:
Working Draft
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This campaign will be re-opening for a flash campaign on October 11. If you wish to be notified once the campaign re-opens, you may email me at laurenannerice@gmail.com For more information please visit: facebook.com/evelynthebook

At 10:40 AM, on Thursday, May 1st, 1947

Evelyn Frances McHale jumped off the 86th floor observatory deck of the Empire State Building. She was just twenty-three years old and engaged to be married that summer. She fell over one-thousand feet for about ten seconds, before crashing onto the roof of an United Nations Cadillac limousine. A crowd converged around the scene of the incident, and four minutes after she jumped a young photography student snapped four photos of her. The student then sold one of his photos to LIFE Magazine, and on May 12, 1947 they published her suicide as a full-page photo with the caption, “At the bottom of [the] Empire State Building the body of Evelyn McHale reposes calmly in grotesque bier her falling body punched into the top of a car.” It would be the first and last photo ever published by Robert C. Wiles -- and its fame would only grow larger each year, eventually developing a cult following.

The now iconic photo has continued to haunt so many -- mesmerized by the peaceful look on her face, asking themselves, “Why? Why did she do it?”

This is a story that seeks to answer that question.

Evelyn has instilled curiosity into countless people in the nearly seventy years since she jumped. She has been the inspiration of countless artistic pieces, songs, photographs, poems, and more. I’ve had hundreds of people visit my site while on their own quest for Evelyn’s story. I’ve had teachers and architects and movie producers contact me about Evelyn. So many people see something in her -- whether it is relatability,  beauty, or tragedy -- it lingers with them, and they want to know more.

This is a true story about a young woman who grew up living "The American Dream." She was the youngest girl of eight children, the baby of the family, nicknamed “Ebby.” Evelyn was intelligent, graceful, quiet, and stylish. She came from a family that had today’s equivalent of millions of dollars, during the worst economy the country has ever seen. While poverty and despair blanketed the country during the Great Depression, her father was rising through the ranks of the Federal Banking system. The family moved from California, to Washington D.C., and ended up in an elite suburb of New York. From the outside, it would have appeared Evelyn and her family had everything they could ever want -- but inside of the home was a very different story.

Disease, drama, and death seemed to plague the McHale family.

It was Evelyn's dramatic, and sometimes traumatic, childhood that would shape the rest of her short-lived life. Similarly to Evelyn's mother and some of her siblings -- it seems Evelyn was desperate for a way out -- for an escape from the life she was living. Upon her high school graduation she enlisted in the controversial Women's Army Corps at the height of WWII. Once discharged, she silently burned the uniform that caused so much controversy. She would find love the same year, but it did anything but liberate her. She was plagued by a genetic mood disorder, something that had no name during her time.

The last line of Evelyn's suicide note read, "Tell my father, I have too many of my mother's tendencies."

Through my journey with Evelyn I have learned that things are never as simple as they seem. Money, beauty, a husband-- none of these things guarantee happiness. Everyone’s quest to make meaning of life is different, and you never know what one has suffered through.

Everything in this story is factually accurate and based off true events. I cannot reveal the majority of my new information, or how I retrieved it, because my story has already been plagiarized in the past. I can tell you that I have more information than I ever believed I would find-- I have binders filled with stories, letters, photos, articles, divorce records, financial records, addresses, interviews, and more -- and that I am the only one with all of this information. For more information about Evelyn please visit: laurenannerice.wordpress.com

Read an Excerpt

Interview with Lauren Anne Rice

Read Interview

Why did you write the book?

I am writing this book for so many reasons-- and new ones seem to pop up everyday! When I first discovered Evelyn's photograph, I, like many, was very intrigued. I am a crazy-good Google researcher and I stayed up the entire night researching Evelyn, without any luck. I found dozens of blogs and articles about her-- but each just repeated the same (some wrong) facts. I was determined to find something, and I started digging deeper. The last line of her suicide note, "Tell my father, I have too many of my mother's tendencies" was the one that stuck with me the most. I have bipolar disorder, and I inherited it from my maternal side. It all sounded too familiar. So I started looking deeper into her family, and that's when I found my first clue. I found an old newspaper article with new information about her parents' divorce, and it was the bit of inspiration I needed to keep going.

I kept researching for ten months. I still research every single day. Every moment of my spare time has been dedicated to Evelyn. I sometimes feel like I know Evelyn better than I know myself.

I've done everything I can to look at things through her perspective-- I've studied the places she lived, what society was like, what the weather was like, and the day to day behavior, language, and fashion. Currently, I am reading "The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life: Prohibition through World War II" which is perfect because she lived during 1923-1947. Something I have found especially interesting are all of the different advertisements and articles from her time geared at giving women love advice. It seems like the ultimate goal for a woman was to find a husband. The expectations of women in the 40's were much different than those today. Evelyn courageously rebelled these stereotypes and expectations when she enlisted in the Women's Army Corps at the height of WWII. The WACs were quite a controversy and there's plenty of documentation-- the most telling from male soldiers themselves. Women in uniform were believed to degrade the U.S. military.

Not only do I see the repression of women as a major theme in my novel, but also the repression of those with mental illnesses. This is probably the most important theme in the novel. I have over thirty articles that were published about Evelyn after she jumped, and each headline and article are focused on that fact that she was white, female, attractive, and engaged to be married-- "Oh, how could she commit suicide?!" They focus on the only lines that she crossed out on her suicide note, rather than the last most telling line, "Tell my father, I have too many of my mother's tendencies."

So those tendencies were what I sought out to discover. What I discovered was that tendencies were mental illnesses. Depression did not have a name. Even if one did know what the medical term meant, they would likely never admit they were suffering from it because of the stigma of "being crazy." At this point the story took a more personal turn for me. I am one of several people in my family who have suffered from a mood disorder; I am also the only one to ever seek out, and successfully maintain, treatment. I knew these tendencies far too well. I found suicide notes from the same era that perfectly describe the medical definition of depression, without ever saying the words. I truly believe that Evelyn was suffering and didn't know what it was. I don't think she ever voiced the pain she was in. And I think she was one of many-- she represented several generations. I couldn't imagine suffering through depression for years-- for most of my life-- and that's what I hope to change. I hope to let people know that they aren't alone in what they are experiencing and that there is a way to fix it.

What do you plan to do with the funds you raise?

At this point, I am positive that I have enough for a book. The first draft was a nonfiction piece, and the second a fiction piece. I hope to use both drafts as an outline to this third draft, titled "Evelyn." I am a full-time Creative Writing student at ASU, as well as the Administrative Assistant at the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Unfortunately, because I am a student, I earn a student's salary-- five cents above minimum wage. My financial aid doesn't even cover tuition, and the only help I receive from my family is the left over balance. Basically, my financial situation is a disaster. I have more debt than I know what to do with, and I plan to earn my MFA as well (hopefully to a fully-funded school). I'm barely scraping by as it is-- and I have no spare money to invest in "Evelyn."

Luckily, through the support and guidance of many authors, friends, and professors, I have gotten as far as I have. I have a writing internship with one of the department's best professors, James Blasingame, that focuses solely on Evelyn. Line by line edits, twenty pages every two weeks. Basically, I can guarantee you that this book is going to be written, and with some of the most valuable guidance around. Through my university I was even able to meet with the "Godfather of Creative Nonfiction", Lee Gutkind, about "Evelyn". We plan to meet again at the end of the summer to see how far I have progressed. I have several professors, authors, and professional editors that have graciously agreed to act as my first pair of eyes and editors. They have agreed to do this for free, but with funds I would be more than happy to pay them.

More than anything, I would like to take some serious time to spend writing. Between work during the week, babysitting on the weekends, and a steady stream of homework-- I can barely find time for myself. Even if I could just spend every Friday-- only writing-- no researching, it would help enormously. But time is money, and I have very little of both. I think sometimes that's the hardest part about writing your first book -- it's quite literally a 24-hour job, and you are doing it because you are passionate about it, but you are also doing it for free until you find a publisher. It can be very exhausting knowing you're giving it everything you have, and you won't get anything back for a long, long time-- and much more work.

Thanks to a close family friend, and the CEO of award-winning travel magazine "AFAR", Greg Sullivan, I am able to visit NYC and Berkeley this summer to research "Evelyn." He has graciously provided my travel needs -- but this is just the very beginning of my journey.

I have had legal issues with my story already. After posting it on an online portfolio for school, several other websites and blogs plagiarized my material--word by word. I contacted a lawyer, who explained it is my right to request they take it down, and that if they do not I can pursue them legally. Luckily, everyone complied and took my story down. The only bad thing that came out of the situation, was that one of my previously-unknown photos of Evelyn's was leaked on the internet. I would use these funds to copyright my work, and to seek legal advice about the rights to her photos.

Things seem to be constantly evolving and my goals may change. I truly believe that this story will captivate readers as much as her haunting photograph has. I believe that I already have a large and interested audience because of how many people have searched for her story. I have read hundreds of comments on blogs asking-- "Why hasn't anyone written a book about her yet?"

Well, here it is. I have discovered more information than I ever believed I could. Now, I just want to make sure that it is the absolute best it can be-- I just need a bit of help!