Just a publicity stunt? As iconic photo ‘Lunch Atop a Skyscraper’ turns 80, questions arise about its origin
Unknown/© Bettmann/CORBIS Intrepid steel workers atop the RCA Building – now known as the GE Building – on Sept. 29, 1932. An archivist for the photo agency that owns the photo rights says the shot was staged to promote the new Rockefeller Center and not a candid.
As the 80th anniversary of the iconic Depression-era photo showing hard hats lunching atop Rockefeller Center approaches, one archivist is saying the snap wasn’t as candid as it seems.
Known as “Lunch atop a skyscraper,” the breathtaking photo shows 11 fearless laborers taking a sky-high siesta on a girder 69 stories above Manhattan.
The shot’s appeal was always in the men’s demeanor, casually munching sandwiches and puffing smokes 850 feet above 41st Street.
But now, a historian for Corbis Images, which owns the photos rights, says the shot was staged and probably not taken by famed photographer Charles C. Ebbets.
“The image was a publicity effort by the Rockefeller Center,” Ken Johnston, Corbis’ chief historian, told British newspaper The Independent.
“It seems pretty clear they were real workers, but the event was organized with a number of photographers.”
The photo was taken on Sept. 29, 1932 and appeared in the New York Herald Tribune on Oct. 2.
© Bettmann/CORBIS A second photo showed the workers taking a post-lunch nap. Corbis says several photographers were on the scene, and it can’t be sure who took which photo.
The workers were toiling on the RCA Building, the signature colossus of Rockefeller Center now known as the GE Building. At the time, it was billed as the largest office building in the world.
It was decades before Ebbets was identified as the shooter, but Johnston told The Independent there were several shutterbugs on the scene, and Corbis can no longer be sure who took it.
Regardless, the photo was “a piece of American history,” Johnston said, and remains Corbis’ biggest selling historical snapshot.
A second image from the series shows the men taking a post lunch snooze on the girder.
The workers’ identities has always been a mystery – Corbis tried tracking them down 12 years ago but had no luck – but an Irish filmmaker’s new movie claims to know the stories behind two of them.
The documentary, “Men at Lunch,” produced by Sean O’Cualain, tells the story of Pat Glynn, 75, and Patrick O’Shaughnessy, 77, who say their fathers are the men on the far left and far right of the photograph.