Iconic photo may have been a publicity stunt

Just a publicity stunt? As iconic  photo ‘Lunch Atop a Skyscraper’ turns 80, questions arise about its  origin

20 Sep 1932, Manhattan, New York City, New York State, USA --- While New York's thousands rush to crowded restaurants and congested lunch counters for their noon day lunch, these intrepid steel workers atop the 70 story RCA building in Rockefeller Center get all the air and freedom they want by lunching on a steel beam with a sheer drop of over 800 feet to the street level. The RCA building is the largest office building in terms of office space in the world. (original caption). Image taken 9/20/32; filed 9/29/32.  --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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.


Photodisc/Getty Images The GE Building — commonly known as 30 Rock — at present  day Rockefeller

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