You Can Recreate the Iconic 1932 ‘Lunch Atop a Skyscraper’ Photo

Visitors will be safely strapped in as they sit atop a beam hundreds of feet above New York City

11 men sitting on a beam eating lunch above New York City
The iconic publicity photo was taken by an unknown photographer in 1932. Bettmann

In 1932, an unknown photographer snapped a picture of 11 ironworkers eating lunch while sitting on a steel beam 850 feet above the ground in New York City. Called Lunch Atop a Skyscraper, the iconic image captured just some of the more than 40,000 men—many of them immigrants—hired to build Rockefeller Center during the Great Depression.

Now, a new attraction allows visitors to recreate the 91-year-old photo themselves. This month, Rockefeller Center unveiled “Top of the Rock: The Beam,” a ticketed experience that takes place on one of the outdoor observation decks of 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

Participating visitors can sit on a recreated beam on the building’s 69th floor. Once everyone is situated, the beam rises 12 feet above the observation deck and rotates 180 degrees, offering views of the city and Central Park hundreds of feet below, reports USA Today's Saleen Martin.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Rockefeller Center (@rockefellercenter)

Today’s guests don’t actually dangle precariously above the ground like the ironworkers did in 1932. Instead, they’re safely strapped in—and the beam remains above the observation deck the entire time. And, unfortunately, lunch is not included in the ticket price.

Even so, visitors can get a small taste of what it would have been like to be a member of the skyscraper’s construction crew decades ago.

“The idea of creating the Beam so that people could feel directly connected to that iconic photo really appealed to us,” says EB Kelly, head of Rockefeller Center, to Gothamist’s Precious Fondren.

Row of people sitting on a beam with views of NYC in the background
Guests are strapped to the beam for the entire experience. Diane Bondareff / AP Images for Tishman Speyer

Up to seven people can sit on the beam at one time, but guests must leave their cameras, cell phones and other recording devices behind while participating in the experience. Friends and family members can snap photos from another level of the observation decks; a digital photo is also included in the beam ticket.

The new beam experience is part of a broader renovation and expansion project underway at Rockefeller Center, reports Travel + Leisure's Alison Fox. Other forthcoming additions include the “Skylift,” a glass-enclosed viewing platform that will extend 30 feet above the rooftop, and the “Rooftop Beacon,” a spherical installation with orbiting lights and rotating panels, per Designboom’s Lynne Myers.

A new eatery also recently opened on the 67th floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Called the Weather Room, the rooftop cafe serves pastries, sandwiches, snacks and drinks, reports TimeOut's Anna Rahmanan.

Women sitting on a beam with their hands in the air
Up to seven people can sit on the beam at one time. Diane Bondareff / AP Images for Tishman Speyer

As for the original Lunch Atop a Skyscraper, details about the famous photograph remain sparse. Historians know it was a publicity shot that originally appeared in the October 2, 1932 edition of the New York Herald Tribune. However, much of the photograph’s backstory has been lost to history.

Since 2010, two Irish brothers named Seán and Éamonn Ó Cualáín have been trying to unravel some of the image’s mysteries, reports Karen Hudes for the Center Magazine, a publication produced by Rockefeller Center. Their research began at a pub in Ireland, where they spotted a copy of the photo hanging on the wall. Next to it, they found a note left by a man named Pat Glynn, who indicated that his father and uncle-in-law were two of the men in the photograph.

Working in partnership with Rockefeller Center archivist Christine Roussel, the Ó Cualáin brothers investigated the identities of the men in the picture. Their research journey is the subject of the 2012 documentary Men at Lunch.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.