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80 year anniversary of New York skyscraper photo

The documentary partially solves 80-year-old mystery of who the men were. Picture: Charles C. Ebbets/Bettmann/CORBIS

The documentary partially solves 80-year-old mystery of who the men were. Picture: Charles C. Ebbets/Bettmann/CORBIS

  • by ALASTAIR DALTON
 

IT IS a picture of death-defying nonchalance that has drawn gasps from viewers and become the quintessential image of New York’s skyscraper boom.

The photograph of a group of construction workers taking a lunch break, perched on girders 850ft above Manhattan, was taken 80 years ago today.

It was published anonymously in the New York Herald Tribune without any details of the 11 men, but detective work by documentary makers has now established that at least four of them were Irish immigrants.

In Lunch Atop a Skyscraper, they are shown smoking and drinking 69 floors up during the construction of the RCA Building in 1932.

It was renamed the GE Building in 1986 and forms the centrepiece of the Rockefeller Centre.

A new documentary, which was shown at the Toronto Film Festival last week, uncovers the identities of some of the men. At least two of them came Shanaglish, a village in Galway on the west coast of Ireland.

The brothers-in-law Matty O’Shaughnessy and Sonny Glynn “walked off the farm” to find work in the United States.

Mr O’Shaughnessy, at the left end of the line getting a light for a cigarette, was 31, while Mr Glynn, at the righthand end holding a bottle, was 28.

The older man spent the rest of his life in the US, while Mr Glynn returned to Galway three years later to become a farmer and father nine children.

Film-maker Sean O Cualain said two of the men’s children, who live in Boston, had spotted their fathers in the picture ten years ago.

He said: “[Pat Glynn] just saw it in the window of a photography shop in Boston and straightaway he noticed his father, the guy holding the bottle. It was his father’s eyes he recognised.

“Pat then went to his first cousin to say, ‘I found my father in this photograph’. It was then that they recognised O’Shaughnessy.”

 

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