Picked up a 1971 Time-Life book, Photojournalism, from the public library used bookstore. Transfixed by a particular photo from 1942, by I. Russell Sorgi. First time seen by me, though it appears to be quite famous. When one searches “I. Russell Sorgi images”, the same photo comes up. May 7, 1942, and some choice or madness:


Photo by I. Russell Sorgi
, May 7, 1942

1971 caption in Time-Life book is as follows:

Plunging toward her death, a 35 year-old divorcée is frozen in the act of suicide by the camera of news photographer I. Russell Sorgi of the Buffalo Courier Express. She had leaped from the eighth-story ledge of a hotel despite policemen’s attempts to dissuade her.

“35 year-old divorcée”. Who and what? As discussed by Mary W. Matthews:

The May 8, 1942 edition of the New York Times reported that 35-year-old Mary Miller had checked into the Genesee as “M. Miller, Chicago.” She “entered a women’s restroom, locked the door from the inside, and crept out onto the ledge.” (Leading us to the inference that in May 1942, hotel rooms at the Genesee did not have individual bathrooms, as we take for granted today.) Two days later, the Times confirmed that the suicide was indeed Mary Miller, who lived with her sister in Buffalo, but had told her sister that she was going to Indiana to visit relatives.

The sister had no idea why Mary Miller would want to commit suicide, but this has not stopped history from referring to this dramatic photo as “the Despondent Divorcée.”…

As further discussed by R.E. Hadlock:

The photo, which was titled “The Despondent Divorcee”, has no basis in fact as Mary Miller was not, nor was she ever, married. What makes her case so disturbing is that there is no known motive behind the suicide, no note was ever discovered and she waved to the crowd immediately before ending her life.



From R. E. Hadlock
The Genesee Hotel Suicide
October 1, 2015

Addendum, March 18, 2016:

The photo was published in Life Magazine two weeks later, on May 18, 1942. According to, the caption at the time was as follows:

In Buffalo, May 7, a 35-year-old Chicago divorcee named Mary Margaret Miller crawled onto an eighthstory ledge of the Genesee Hotel. For 20 minutes she perched there, swinging her legs and waving, whilst patrol-car sirens screamed in the street below. With the police arrived Photographer I. [Iggy] Russell Sorgi of the Buffalo Courier-Express. As he set his camera, Mrs. Miller clutched a ventilator in both hands and lowered herself over the ledge. Then she let go. Women in the street screamed. and Sorgi snapping his shutter in the last dreadful split second before death captured the breath-taking photograph above.

Addendum, March 19, 2016:

Sorgi mentions that he took two earlier pictures of Mary Miller on the ledge. Those pictures do not appear to be widely circulated, if circulated at all.

About brucelarochelle
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