Philippe Petit’s tight-rope walk between the Twin Towers

This freaks me out. According to onlookers, he wasn’t so much walking as he was dancing on the tight rope. He knelt, he laid down, he just, er performed. You couldn’t make me do this even if you put a gun to my head!

Apparently, this French chap who was all of 24 when he did this, just wanted to be up there. The twin towers were completed in 1971 and were plagued by plenty of negative publicity. People found it ugly and a waste of money. This guy practically made it famous.

The planning process, according to Wikipedia:

Petit was first inspired to attempt what he called his “le coup” on the Twin Towers while he sat in his dentist’s office in Paris in 1968. In a magazine, he came upon an article about the as-yet-unconstructed buildings, along with an illustration of the model.

The ‘artistic crime of the century’ took six years of planning, during which Petit learned everything he could about the buildings, taking into account such problems as the swaying of the towers because of wind, and how to rig the steel cable across the 140-foot (43 m) gap between the towers (at a height of 1,368 ft (417.0 m)). He traveled to New York on several occasions to make first-hand observations. Since the towers were still under construction, Philippe and NY-based photographer Jim Moore went up in a helicopter to make aerial photographs of the WTC.

Petit sneaked into the towers several times, hiding on the roof and other areas in the unfinished towers, in order to get a sense of what type of security measures were in place.  He made fake identification cards for himself and his collaborators (claiming that they were contractors who were installing an electrified fence on the roof) to gain access to the towers. Prior to this, to make it easier to get into the buildings, Petit carefully observed the clothes worn by construction workers and the kinds of tools they carried. He also took note of the clothing of businessmen so that he could blend in with them when he tried to enter the buildings. He observed what time the workers arrived and left, so he could determine when he would have roof access. As the target date of his “coup” approached, he claimed to be a journalist with a French architecture magazine so that he could gain permission to interview the workers on the roof. The Port Authority allowed Petit to conduct the interviews, which he used as a pretext to make more observations. He was once caught by a police officer on the roof, and his hopes to do the high wire walk were dampened, but he eventually regained the confidence to proceed.

On the night of August 6, 1974, Petit and his crew were able to ride in a freight elevator to the 104th floor with their equipment, and to store this equipment just nineteen steps from the roof. In order to pass the cable across the void, Petit and his crew had settled on using a bow and arrow. They first shot across a fishing line, and then passed larger and larger ropes across the space between the towers until they were able to pass the 450-pound steel cable across.

The Walk

As soon as Petit was observed by witnesses on the ground, the Port Authority Police Department dispatched officers to the roof to take him into custody.

One of the officers, Sgt. Charles Daniels, later reported his experience: I observed the tightrope ‘dancer’—because you couldn’t call him a ‘walker’—approximately halfway between the two towers. And upon seeing us he started to smile and laugh and he started going into a dancing routine on the high wire….And when he got to the building we asked him to get off the high wire but instead he turned around and ran back out into the middle….He was bouncing up and down. His feet were actually leaving the wire and then he would resettle back on the wire again….Unbelievable really….Everybody was spellbound in the watching of it.

His audacious high wire performance made headlines around the world. When asked why he did the stunt, Petit would say “When I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk.”

And the bizarre consequences:

The immense news coverage and public appreciation of Petit’s high wire walk resulted in all formal charges relating to his walk being dropped. The court did however “sentence” Petit to perform a show for the children of New York City, which he transformed into another high-wire walk, in Central Park above Belvedere Lake. Petit was also presented with a lifetime pass to the Twin Towers’ Observation Deck.

So very intriguing!!

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2 responses to “Philippe Petit’s tight-rope walk between the Twin Towers

  1. i love the saying when i see 3 oranges i juggle, when i see 2 towers i walk!!!

  2. No video! What a pity!

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