The identity of two Irish immigrants who are part of the iconic “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper” photograph, which depicts laborers eating lunch 69 stories above Manhattan sitting only on a hanging beam, has been revealed by an Irish filmmaker.
Séan Ó Cualáin, a filmmaker from Connemara in Co. Galway, believes that two Irish immigrants, Matty O’Shaughnessy and Sonny Glynn, both now deceased, are the bookends on the famous steel girder.
The Irish emigrants’ sons Pat Glynn, 75, and Patrick O'Shaughnessy, 77, both Boston residents, are adamant that their fathers, two brothers-in-law -- are the two men at either end of the famous shot.
“Pat (Glynn) was working and noticed the picture. He saw his father looking right back at him holding the bottle,” Ó Cualáin told the Irish Voice.
“He went to his cousin like a child with a new toy and said his found his father.”
Glynn is wearing a hat on the right end of the beam, staring directly at the camera; he has a bottle in his left hand.
“When O'Shaughnessy saw the image he said that was the picture his father always spoke about it but at the time it wasn’t an important photograph.”
O'Shaughnessy was the man on the left end of the beam, getting a light for his cigarette.
The two emigrants had left Shaneaglish in Galway in the 1920s destined for a new life in America. They ended up working alongside one another on a construction job at New York’s Rockefeller Center.
“Economics drove those men onto the beam in the middle of the Great Depression. Millions of people now look at that picture all over the world,” says Ó Cualáin.
“It sounds strange but their story adds up,” added O’Cualain, who runs Sonta Productions from his native Galway.
The black and white image was captured on September 29, 1932 by photographer Charles C. Ebbets as the group of men took their lunch break atop a steel girder 69 floors up on the Rockefeller Center.
As their worn work boots dangled over the edge, the New York skyline provided the backdrop with Central Park in the distance. The picture would later run in the Sunday edition of the New York Herald Tribune.
The true identities of the 11 workmen are largely unknown, although several people have come forward claiming a family connection.
Last Thursday the two cousins made the journey down from Boston where they took a trip to the observation deck on the 70th-floor Rockefeller Center, to gaze at the same view their fathers had enjoyed during their long work days, almost 80 years previously.
“They were honest workers trying to make an honest wage,” reflects Ó Cualáin.
“This was just one day in their fathers’ lives and they are happy that people respect and appreciate their hard work.”
The Galway filmmaker first heard about the Irish immigrant involvement in the picture from a friend who had seen a signed copy of the print hanging in a Galway pub.
Ó Cualáin, who is currently in the U.S. filming a documentary, Ám Lón, meaning “Men at Lunch,” has used the powerful story of these Irish immigrants as the backdrop for his film.
As part of the documentary, producers will employ digital face-mapping technology to prove that O’Shaughnessy and Glynn are the men pictured.
The film is due to be aired next year.
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