Here’s a crass joke: A man is at a dinner party in a 40th floor apartment. He announces to the rest, “You know, the wind out there is so strong, that if you jump out the window, it will blow you all around the building and right back in!” The other guests laugh at the absurdity of such an assertion, but the man persists: “I’ll prove it!” He jumps out the window and, sure enough, he ends up floating around the building and re-entering, safely, in the window he defenestrated himself out of just moments earlier. Another guest, wanting the thrill of a lifetime, quickly jumped out the window before anyone else could stop him — and plummeted to his death.
The bartender then pointed at the first guest: “You can be a real jerk when you’re drunk, Superman.”
Again, that’s a joke. But on December 2, 1979, Elvita Adams showed that sometimes, even normal, everyday people can be a little bit super.
That evening, Adams, then age 29 and living in the Bronx, decided to take her own life. The reasons are unclear, but most likely, Adams was suffering from severe depression and in a fight with her landlord and about to be evicted. She went to the Empire State Building in midtown Manhattan to the observatory on the 86th floor. She scaled a seven foot fence (replete with steel spikes) and jumped.
That, in and of itself, is nothing terribly peculiar. A few dozen people have jumped to their deaths off the Empire State Building, the first occurring before the building was even completed when a laid-off worker took his own life that way. In 1947, a 23 year-old jumped, leaving a crossed-out suicide note about how an unnamed man would be “much better off without [her]” and that she would not have made a very good wife. Her body was found on a limousine at the building’s base, and LIFE magazine ran a picture of her body, so situated, as seen here. And just a few years ago, a 54 year-old Manhattan woman took her life in similar fashion.
But Adams, pictured above, did something none of the others can claim to have done. She survived. A wind gust — a very strong one, certainly — caught hold of her and blew her back toward the building, albeit one floor down. She landed on a ledge on the 85th floor very much alive, where a security guard found her before she could make another attempt. The only damage to her body? A fractured hip.
Adams was taken to a mental institution to recuperate, both mentally and physically. Her current whereabouts are not publicly known.
Bonus fact: If Adams is Superwoman, Jeb Corliss is her not-so-super alter-ego. On April 27, 2006, Corliss — who, at the time, hosted the Discovery Channel’s Stunt Junkies – tried to parachute off the side of the Empire State Building from the 86th floor observatory. He was unsuccessful. While he was able to get to the observatory deck (he wore a fat suit to obscure the parachute), when he began to climb the fence, security guards took note and went after him. Corliss scaled the fence successfully but before he could jump, the security guards grabbed him and held on until others could reel him in. (Here’s a video showing most of that — it cuts off before he’s brought back in.) Corliss was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment and fired from his Stunt Junkies gig, but Corliss shot back with a lawsuit of his own, suing the city, demanding that it issue permits for such jumps. He lost. And then he lost again: Corliss was later sued by the building for $12 million; the two sides settled. And finally, he lost a third time. In 2012, he jumped out of an airplane in a flying squirrel suit in southern Africa, but crashed into a mountain and broke both his legs.
From the Archives: The World’s Littlest Skyscraper: It’s … not very big. For a skyscraper, at least.
Related: A seven-inch scale model of the Empire State Building. Safe to jump over. Hard to jump off of, unless you’re really really tiny.