Galway roots of iconic photo
Mystery over builders' identities may be solved, writes Donal Lynch
A Galway-based filmmaker believes he's discovered the identity of two of the 11 mystery men featured in Lunch Atop a Skyscraper; the iconic Depression-era photo of construction workers eating lunch, suspended half a mile in the air above Manhattan, as they worked on Rockefeller Centre. First cousins Pat Glynn (75) and Patrick O'Shaughnessy (77) have told filmmaker Sean O Cualain that their fathers -- brothers-in-law and Irish immigrants from Co Galway -- are the two men on either end of the beam.
Glynn believes his father, Sonny, is the man on the far right of the girder glaring at the camera. O'Shaughnessy says his father, Martin, is the dark-haired man on the far left, with his head leaning forward to light a cigarette. Nobody recorded the names of the men working on September 29, 1932, when photographer Charles C Ebbets took the picture that featured the following Sunday in The New York Herald Tribune.
"Pat (Glynn) was working and noticed the picture. He saw his father looking right back at him holding the bottle," O Cualain told the Irish Voice. "He went to his cousin, like a child with a new toy, and said he'd 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 but at the time it wasn't an important photograph," O Cualain added.
As time passed the lore of the photo grew and it became a well-known symbol of Manhattan's immigrant beginnings.
Historians were never entirely sure of the identities of the 11 men, although many people have come forward over the years to claim a family connection. A story which ran some years ago in the local New York press about the photograph prompted some people to come forward saying they were related to the men in the photo.
Last week, Glynn and O'Shaughnessy got their first look at the Manhattan skyline from the Observation Deck's 70th floor -- the same jawdropping views seen by their fathers 80 years ago. The headlines in the New York papers this week read: "Their pops built the Rock."
Sonny was about 28 years old and Martin about 31 when the picture was taken, according to their sons. The two men "walked off the farm" in Galway to find work in America, said O'Shaughnessy. His father eventually went back to Ireland, while Glynn stayed there to make a living in construction.
Glynn first saw Ebbets's picture a few years ago in a shop near Boston, where the cousins live.
"It caught my eye, and I gave it a look and said right away: 'that's my dad'," said the retired postal worker.
Sean O Cualain, who runs Sonta Productions from his native Galway, hopes his documentary on Glynn and O'Shaughnessy will air at some stage during 2012.