Russel Sorgi, a photographer for the Buffalo Courier-Express in Buffalo (1942 Genesee Hotel), New York, was returning to the office from an assignment on May 7, 1942. Sorgi was passing by police cars when he decided to follow them after taking a different route than normal. Russell Sorgi observed a woman “sitting on a ledge outside an eighth-floor window” on the corner of Gennesee and Pearl Street as the automobiles approached the Genesee Hotel at 530 Main Street.
1942 Genesee Hotel: The Story
“I pulled my camera from the car and took two rapid photographs as [the woman] seemed to hesitate,” Sorgi recalled. I stuffed the exposed film into the case as quickly as I could and reached for a new holder. She waved to the throng below and pushed herself into space as soon as I pulled the slide out and got ready for another photo. As her body plunged into the street, terrified witnesses screamed and shouted. I kept a good handle on myself and waited until the woman had passed the second or third floor before shooting.”
What Makes 1942 Genesee Hotel story great?
Ms Miller claimed to be from Chicago when she checked into the hotel as “M. Miller.” She dashed into the hotel’s communal women’s lavatory, shut the door, and stepped out the window onto the ledge. Mary Miller, a Buffalo resident who lived with her sister, had booked into the Genesee Hotel after informing her sister she was visiting relatives in Indiana (1942 Genesee Hotel).
1942 Genesee Hotel: Magic
Although there is little information on Mary Miller, it is known that her sister was devastated by her death by suicide. The photograph, titled “The Despondent Divorcee,” is based on a fabrication, as Mary Miller was never married. What’s particularly unsettling about her case is that there was no known motivation for her suicide, no note was ever produced, and she waved to the crowd before taking her own life.
The shot was also featured the next day in the New York Times and afterwards in LIFE magazine, in addition to the Buffalo Courier Express. A policewoman can be seen entering the hotel in the shot, most likely in an attempt to stop Mary Miller from killing herself; possibly watching the officer enter the building led Mary to leap before she could be stopped (1942 Genesee Hotel).
1942 Genesee Hotel: Looking Amazing
The shot is intriguing not simply because it shows suicide in progress. The majority of males were serving in World War II in 1942, and women had only recently begun to enter the workforce. The policewoman who was spotted running inside the Genessee Hotel was most likely one of Buffalo’s first female cops. Two men in a coffee shop, presumably oblivious to the terror on the street outside, are seen next to a World War II propaganda placard in the window that reads, “Give until Hitler suffers.”
Room rates at the Genesee Hotel were advertised on the façade of the building as “$1.00 and more” per night (but you had to share a toilet, of course), while sandwiches at the coffee shop downstairs were only 10 cents in 1942. The Genesee Hotel first opened its doors in 1882, however it has since been demolished.
The famous photograph, dubbed “The Despondent Divorcee” but more accurately dubbed “The Genesee Hotel Suicide,” was utilised in a psychological experiment. On the first examination of the photo, 96 per cent of the participants in the research did not observe Mary Miller falling to her death.
Sorgi was most likely shooting using a Graflex Speed Graphic camera, which was nearly extensively used for newspaper photography in 1942. The incredible detail in this photograph comes from an SLR that utilised 5′′ by 4′′ sheet film. Sorgi had to remove each exposed slide and reload the camera before he could create his next photograph, whereas a 35mm SLR could take up to 36 images before reloading. He had to wait for just the right moment to get this photo, otherwise, he would have been too preoccupied with reloading the camera. His two “establishing shots” must have seemed like a major gamble to him (1942 Genesee Hotel).