The Iconic Photograph: Lunch Atop A Skyscraper


One night last week while searching online for information about Rockefeller Center, I accidentally stumbled upon a photograph that I knew I had seen before but never gave it much attention. Yet, when I saw it this time, I felt very drawn to click on the image so that I could find out more about it.

Let me first say that the reason I was searching for Rockefeller Center is because I plan on visiting its three observation decks sometime soon; therefore, I needed to find out about the tours they offer and ticket prices. In all the years that I lived in New York, going to the Top of the Rock was one attraction I had never experienced. I'd been to the top of The Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty, and The World Trade Center, but never the top of Rockefeller. However lately, I've been reading posts written by many New York City photographers who have said that the best view of Manhattan is from the Top of the Rock. And the reason is that because of where the building is positioned on the island, you can evenly see all of Upper and Lower Manhattan, which includes all the iconic New York City landmark buildings without anything blocking your view.

So, either this month or next, I'll be visiting the top of Rockefeller Center with my camera in hand, and I can't wait!

*doing the happy dance*

Anyway. After spending several nights researching this vintage photograph, I discovered much more than I ever thought. I discovered that the picture was taken during the construction of Rockefeller Center, which began in 1931. I also uncovered a wealth of history about the building itself and the men who built it. Picture after picture, and story after story came up, regarding these incredibly brave iron workers who risked their lives every single day.

And what blew me away about the pictures is that the iron workers used no type of safety harness that would prevent them from falling to their deaths. They freely walked along the steel beams by balancing themselves like acrobats.

Some of the pictures literally made the palms of my hands sweat in fear from just looking at them.

The photographs I'm about to share are a mixture of images from the construction of not only Rockefeller Center, but also The Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building.

I think after looking at these images, you'll most definitely understand what the word FEARLESS means. And not only when it comes to the iron workers, but also the photographers who took these pictures.

Please enjoy...


Lunch Atop A Skyscraper first appeared in The New York Herald Tribune on October 2, 1932. Eleven iron workers sitting on a beam, 800 ft. above the city of New York, eating lunch. 

This photograph still remains a mystery as to all the names of these eleven men. It is also believed that this photograph was staged for publicity. But even if it was, I still considered these men brave because there is no way in hell I would ever have the guts to even stage a photo like this.


This picture gives a whole new meaning to the expression, "Balls of Steel."


OH...MY...GOD!!!


That's the Hudson River in the background.


The Empire State Building
Yup...this is one of the pictures that made my palms sweat!


And THIS one too!


Atop the Chrysler Building


I LOVE this clever picture because it was waaaaaaay before Photo Shop was ever invented.


Photographer


What totally impresses me about this picture is just how nonchalant he looks.


I love the glimpse of the Chrysler Building and the East River in the background.


Bravo, gentlemen!

I applaud your dedication, hard work, and phenomenal bravery.



*Photographs taken by: Lewis Hine, Charles Ebbets, Thomas Kelly, William Leftwich.

**If you wish, please watch this short (6 min.) video: Lunch Atop A Skyscraper: The Story Behind The 1932 Photo. You'll find it utterly fascinating!

32 comments

  1. Valerie DaggattJanuary 18, 2018

    Good morning, Ron, at least it was before I saw these pictures. My stomach actually lurched when I saw the second one, but settled slightly when I moved on to others. I said slightly, and meant slightly. When I visited New York I enjoyed looking up and imagining what it was like to be up there, now I'm glad I didn't bother. Hmmm and I thought I could stand heights, I mean (don't laugh) I was fine up Blackpool Tower!
    Thanks for sharing these pics, Ron, if ever I get to New York again I might think about taking a trip up.

    Hope your day is a pleasant one, my friend. It's freezing here so I think Charlie and i will spend the day by the fire.

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  2. Morning Valerie!

    HA! I know what you mean because my stomach lurched on several of these as well!

    I just googled Blackpool Tower because I didn't know what it was. Well, if you could stand that height, I think you could stand Top of the Rock.

    The highest height I've ever been was the top of the World Trade Center, back in 2001. I actually thought I was going to flip out once I got to the top because I am freaked about high heights. But I have to say that I was definitely okay once I got up there.

    What bothers me most about high heights is when it's an open space area because I feel like I'm going to fall. However, when it's an enclosed area (like it was at the World Trade Center), I seem to be okay.

    Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend. Yes, it's freezing here as well. In fact, yesterday it snowed.

    Have a faaaaaaabulous day with Charlie by the warm fire!
    X

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  3. Only two photos from the top, but here is the post: https://musingsfromtheburbs.blogspot.com/2011/05/full-day-in-big-apple.html

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  4. Hi Ron! I'm terrified of heights, so those pics freak me out! But I did go to the Top of the Rock on my last trip to NYC in 2011. I probably posted photos back then. The views really are great. Inside, they have that iconic photo and also a backdrop of it where you can sit down on a beam and have a friend take your photo, so it looks like you suspended above the city. I took a photo of my daughter and the other girls in our group and posted it online and someone commented that she couldn't believe I let the girls do that! Lol, she thought they really were suspended!

    I know you will have a great time! Enjoy!

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  5. "I'm terrified of heights, so those pics freak me out! "

    OMG....me too! Like I said, several of these pics made my palms sweat and caused me to look away.

    I don't remember reading your post about the Top of the Rock, but perhaps I can find it in your archives. Glad to hear that you though the views were great because that is one attraction I have never see, can you believe that?! I am so looking forward to it!

    "The views really are great. Inside, they have that iconic photo and also a backdrop of it where you can sit down on a beam and have a friend take your photo, so it looks like you suspended above the city. "

    Yes!!!! I saw that on their website, so I can't wait to take a picture on the beam with the backdrop. What a hoot!

    " someone commented that she couldn't believe I let the girls do that! Lol, she thought they really were suspended!"

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    Thanks so much for stopping by and letting me know about your experience there. I can't wait to go and take a ton of pictures!

    Have a fabulous weekend!
    X

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  6. Great! Thanks so much for stopping back and sharing the link. I will definitely check it out tomorrow, when I come home from work!

    Thanks!
    X

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  7. Ron, did you notice how many of these men had cigarettes?? I think that must be the key to their bravery, ha! NO WAY would I even consider "posing" on those skyscrapers! In fact, just looking at the photos makes me shaky!

    You know, nowadays we regulate everything, even circuses. What were we thinking, letting these workers do their jobs without some sort of harness or safety net?? Gee, I wonder how many people we lost to that?

    Thank you for a harrowing look into the past -- and I'm eager to see the photos you capture from what I hope is a safer perch! xp

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  8. "This picture gives a whole new meaning to the expression, "Balls of Steel." LOL! Ron, you are too damn funny! Holy shit, these pictures not only made my palms sweat but made me dizzy, especially the third one down. Holy shit, how could anyone have the guts to do that?

    Like you, I had seen this iconic photo before but didn't know the history. I watched the video you suggested and really enjoyed it. I have a whole new respect for construction workers!

    Great post, dude!

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  9. What an interesting post, Ron! I've been to the top of the rock many years ago (2009). I was in New York on a business trip and went to the top with a few coworkers. What a great view! Being a photographer, you're going to really enjoy it. I'm anxious to see your photographs!

    Have you ever seen the documentary, Men at Lunch? It came out in 2013. I think you'd really enjoy it. Here's the link to the trailer ' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJaoSD3tAxs

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  10. "Ron, did you notice how many of these men had cigarettes?? I think that must be the key to their bravery, ha! "

    HAHAHAHAHAHA! OMG Debbie, I never even noticed that, but you're SPOT ON about that! Isn't interesting how when you look at so many of the photographs that date back many years ago, you notice how smoking was so predominant?

    "You know, nowadays we regulate everything, even circuses. What were we thinking, letting these workers do their jobs without some sort of harness or safety net??"

    Yes, exactly! And I can't believe that that was not even considered?!? I watched a documentary on the building of The Empire State Building which said that SIX steel workers feel to their deaths in the year that it took to build.

    Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend. I may be going into NYC next week, so I can't wait to take my camera up to the Top of the Rock!

    Have a faaaaaaabulous weekend!

    X to you and Dallas

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  11. Hiya Matt!

    HA! I couldn't resist sharing that because it was the first thing that popped into my mind the second I saw the photograph!

    Right? I cannot BELIEVE that anyone would have the courage to do that type of work; especially without wearing some kind of harness.

    Glad you enjoyed the video clip, isn't it fantastic? It was such a great look into the history of Rockefeller Center, but also about the men who built it.

    Thanks so much for stopping by, buddy. Have a most excellent weekend!
    X

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  12. Helloooooooo there Candice!

    So happy to hear that you've been to the Top of the Rock and enjoyed the view. OMG...I can't WAIT to get up there myself and take MANY photographs! I may be going into the city next week on one of my days off.

    Thanks soooooooooooo much for sharing the link to the documentary. And no, I didn't know about that documentary, but will look for it online. The trailer was FABULOUS!

    Have a super weekend, my friend. And thanks so much for stopping by!

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  13. Fascinating! I've only ever seen the famous first photo - the rest were all new to me. Can I just say, HOLY CRAP?! My palms get sweaty just looking at those guys. Did anybody fall during the construction phase, to your knowledge?

    I am looking forward to your photos from the Top of the Rock, Ron!!

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  14. I've always loved this photograph...staged or not. All these photos reinforce my opinion that this generation was truly exceptional; the likes of which have seldom been seen since. But, these photos could give even the most adventurous a bit of vertigo! Thanks so much for sharing them with us firmly planted on the ground. Here in Missouri, we have our own Top of the Rock Check it out: http://www.topoftherock.com ; and be sure to watch the videos. You might even want to add this one to your list of attractions. :-)

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  15. Isn't it such a stellar photograph, Lisa?

    " All these photos reinforce my opinion that this generation was truly exceptional; the likes of which have seldom been seen since. "

    Yes....you are spot on about that! It was a very special generation, who I look back on with so much admiration and respect!

    Thanks SO MUCH for sharing the link. And yes, I will definitely check it out and watch the videos. I'll do that either later this evening or tomorrow after I get home from work. Can't wait!

    Hope you're having a faaaaaaaabulous weekend, my friend!
    X

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  16. "Can I just say, HOLY CRAP?!"

    HAHAHAHAHA! I know Mark, can you BELIEVE some of these shots?!?! I have no idea how these men had the balls to do this kind of work without a harness of some kind.

    "Did anybody fall during the construction phase, to your knowledge?"

    Ironic you should ask that because I watched a video last week that mentioned something about how SIX men fell to their deaths during the construction of The Empire State Building because they wanted to get the building up fast (in 13 months) and they were careless about the men's safety. However, when they built Rockefeller Center (which was afterwards) they took more safety precautions by constructing it slower and more carefully. NO men died during that construction.

    I am soooooooo looking forward to going into NYC next week and taking pictures!

    Have a faaaaaaaaaabulous weekend, my friend. And thanks so much for stopping by!

    X to you and Tara

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  17. http://ladyfi.wordpress.comJanuary 21, 2018

    I love the view from the Rockefeller Centre! Just looking at the photos of these amazing people made me feel dizzy.

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  18. Ron, these vintage photographs are AMAZING! I can't understand how these men could have done that kind of work without any safety harnesses? I've been to Rockefeller Center several times when I still lived on Long Island and loved the view. I also love Rockefeller Center during the holidays, the Christmas tree, the lights, the music, the whole magnetic energy. It's incredible!

    I can't wait to see your photographs and read about your experience after go to the Top of the Rock!

    Have a wonderful week, Ron X

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  19. Hola Denise!

    Right? I can't fathom how anyone could walk around on those beams that high up over the city??!?!? Those men were VERY courageous! While watching one of the documentaries, it said that back then (during the depression), it was hard to find a job so these men were grateful to get the work - ANY work.

    " I also love Rockefeller Center during the holidays, the Christmas tree, the lights, the music, the whole magnetic energy. It's incredible!"

    I agree! There is no place like it during the holidays!

    I am so looking forward to going to the Top of the Rock and snapping pictures!

    Thanks so much for stopping by, girl. Have a terrific week!
    X

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  20. I can't WAIT to finally get up there and witness the view! I may be going into NYC this coming week on one of my days off.

    "Just looking at the photos of these amazing people made me feel dizzy."

    HA! Me too!

    Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend. Have an awesome week!
    X

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  21. Rob LenihanJanuary 26, 2018

    These photographs are amazing, Ron. I'm getting vertigo just looking at them!

    I can't believe how the guys were able to do this! Thanks so much for posting these great photos and I hope you have a great time at Rockefeller Center. Btw, did you notice the two-toned shoes on that photographer? Pretty snazzy!

    Take care, buddy!

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  22. Those are such amazing photos and they ALL make me just a little queasy! I have a nagging fear that if I'm up somewhere high like that I might get a wild impulse to jump. Or someone else might take a notion to push me. Freaks me out. The 6th (I think) photo of the photographer? That's one sharply dressed man!

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  23. Hey there Rob!

    Aren't these photographs AMAZING?!?! HA! I know, MANY of these gave me vertigo as well!

    I'm in AWE of how these guys were able to do this. And considering that no lives were lost during the construction of Rockefeller Center, is mind-blowing.

    "Btw, did you notice the two-toned shoes on that photographer? Pretty snazzy!"

    OMG, yes...I did notice that. Just show you how different times were back then, and how professional men dressed. SNAZZY indeed!

    Thanks so much for stopping by, buddy. Hope you're enjoying a super weekend!
    X

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  24. " I have a nagging fear that if I'm up somewhere high like that I might get a wild impulse to jump. Or someone else might take a notion to push me. Freaks me out. "

    OMG....I feel the EXACT same way, I kid you not! For as much as I fear heights, I get a strange sensation that I want to JUMP! And it's funny you mentioned someone else taking a notion to push you because this past Wednesday, I went to NYC and actually went on top of the rock, and thought that same thing. In fact, I kept looking behind me as I walked close to the edge of the building to take a photograph to see if anyone was close to me!

    I'll be sharing those photographs soon!

    "The 6th (I think) photo of the photographer? That's one sharply dressed man!"

    I agree! I was very impressed by the way he was dressed, just to take a picture.

    Hope you're having a FAB weekend, and thanks so much for stopping by!

    X

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  25. Ha! Why does it not surprise me AT ALL that you have those same thoughts? One of the many reasons I love you!

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  26. Hey there Elaine!

    I'm VERY afraid of heights as well, but I force myself to do these things because I can't stand being afraid of things, or missing out on seeing something faaaaaaaaabulous! I can't even stand to FLY, but I do it because I like to travel.

    I've only been to the top of the Twin Towers one time; it was about a month and a half before the attack. The view was spectacular!

    Thanks so much for stopping by, neighbor! Hope you're enjoying a fabulous weekend!
    X

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  27. Ron, I have the most intense fear of heights, so even looking at these open-air pictures gave me a sense of panic. I've never been to the Rock, but I have been to the top of The Empire State Building (only once) when I was still living in New York. I'm sad to say that I've also never been to the top of the Twin Towers, which I regret because they are no longer there.

    These pictures are phenomenal. How these men ever did this kind of work without any safety harness is unbelievable!

    Looking forward to seeing your photos! X

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  28. Thank you for sharing the link, Ron. I really enjoyed the documentary! :)

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  29. You are so welcome, Candice! Glad you enjoyed. Isn't it awesome? I watched it several times.

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  30. OMG! My stomach is doing cartwheels.
    Those photos made my sphincter spasm. Seriously!

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  31. "Those photos made my sphincter spasm. Seriously!

    HAHAHAHAHA! OMG...that was flawless! And I have to agree with you in saying....mine too, Pat, mine too!

    Can you BELIEVE that these men did this?!?!

    Thanks so much for stopping by, buddy!

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