The tragic story of creating a random picture of a "Desperate divorcee"

The tragic story of creating a random picture of a "Desperate divorcee"

Categories: History | North America

In the spring of 1942, photographer Russell Sorgi made a very rare and tragic shot, capturing the last moments of a stranger's life. The suicide at the Genesee Hotel remained forever on film: the frame flew around the whole world and was called "The Desperate Divorcee" (The Despondent Divorcee). Many people think that this photo shows a girl who was abandoned by her husband, or it is generally "staged". However, both assumptions are not true, but here is the real story of the creation of this frame.

The tragic story of creating a random picture of a "Desperate divorcee"

On May 7, 1942, a tragedy occurred at the Genesee Hotel, located in Buffalo, New York. A young woman named Mary Miller took her own life by jumping out of an 8th floor window. As it turned out later, on that day the deceased settled in a hotel, after which she went into the women's toilet and climbed out through the window onto a ledge on the wall of the building.

Seeing a woman sitting on the window, onlookers began to gather on the street, the police moved out. Several police cars drove past Russell Sorgi, a photographer for the Buffalo Courier Express, who was then returning to the office. Like any "sensation hunter", Sorgi sensed something was wrong and decided to follow the police.

The tragic story of creating a random picture of a "Desperate divorcee"

And chuika did not let the photographer down. When he got to the Genesee Hotel building, he saw a crowd of onlookers and a girl looking down at them. The photographer quickly took the camera out of the car and took a couple of pictures. It seemed to Sorgi that the mysterious stranger was hesitating… However, the next moment something terrible happened: the girl waved to the crowd and jumped down from the 8th floor.

The tragic story of creating a random picture of a "Desperate divorcee"

In addition to the Buffalo Courier Express, the photo was published the next day in the May 8, 1942 issue of the New York Times, and later in LIFE magazine. Then the picture was replicated all over the world, being called "Desperate divorcee". However, later during the investigation it turned out that the deceased had never even been married. Mary Miller lived with her sister in Buffalo. On the day of her death, she told her sister that she was going to visit relatives in Indiana, and she came to the Genesee Hotel and did what she did. By the way, Miller told the administrator that she lives in Chicago…

The tragic story of creating a random picture of a "Desperate divorcee"

Why Mary did this is still unknown. There was no motive, no suicide note, or any other details indicating the reasons for suicide. The sister of the deceased was shocked by Mary's death and said that it was completely unexpected. The fact that the suicide waved to the crowd before jumping is also curious.

The tragic story of creating a random picture of a "Desperate divorcee"

The photo is intriguing not only because it depicts suicide. In 1942, most men fought in The Second World War, and women were just beginning to join the ranks of workers. The policewoman seen running inside the Genesee Hotel was most likely one of the first women to work in law enforcement in Buffalo.

The tragic story of creating a random picture of a "Desperate divorcee"

Two men in a cafe, apparently unaware of the panic that broke out on the street, are seen next to a World War II propaganda sign placed in a window with the inscription: "Give until it hurts Hitler." A sign hanging on the side of the building advertises the cost of rooms at the Genesis Hotel as "$1 and up" per night, and sandwiches at the coffee shop downstairs cost customers just 10 cents in 1942. The Genesee Hotel was built in 1882, but later this historic building was demolished.

The tragic story of creating a random picture of a "Desperate divorcee"

Russell Sorgi won the Pulitzer Prize for his picture. Most likely, he was shooting with a Graflex Speed Graphic camera, which in 1942 was used almost everywhere for newspaper photography. It was a SLR camera that used a 5-by-4-inch film, which is where the amazing details in the famous photo came from.

The tragic story of creating a random picture of a "Desperate divorcee"

While with a 35mm SLR camera it was possible to take up to 36 images before rebooting, Sorgi had to delete each exposed slide and reboot the camera before he could take the next picture. His composure is obvious: he had to wait for the right moment to take this picture, otherwise he would have been too busy restarting the camera.

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