"If I see three oranges, I have to juggle. And if I see
two towers, I have to walk" - Philippe Petit,
Philippe Petit is a funambulist who has performed some of the most
astonishing walks on the tightrope. His most remarkable achievement
was on August 7, 1974 when he clandestinely traversed a cable
across the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center. The
slightest misstep, or an unfortunate gust of wind and Philippe would have
ended up 1300 feet (400 m.) lower: there were no safety lines
to catch his fall.
Those who have been on the roof of the twin towers and have stared
down the 110 floors of the towers can imagine what a frightening stunt
this must have been. However Petit did not consider this a stunt, but rather
an act of human poetry. Petit is an artist who expresses himself
with an exercise that requires a sheer unimaginable amount of
concentration and dedication.
There's no risk involved. When I put my first foot onto the
wire, I need to be sure there will be the last step"
Petit spent nine years of dreaming about his walk. It took eight
months to prepare his stunt with the aid of an accomplice, the
photographer Jean-Louis Blondeau. Around 1974, the twin towers were
nearing their completion. Dressed as construction workers, film-makers
or journalist, the two made several exploratory forays into the
buildings. They spent many days hiding equipment in the buildings and on
the roofs. The biggest problem was to get a rope across. Their solution
was to shoot a thin nylon fishing line across with a crossbow, pull
across a rope, and finally a steel cable. The weight of the cable almost
dragged one of the men off one of the towers, but finally the cable was
tightened to two posts with 2 500 pounds force.
At 7:15 AM, Petit stepped onto the rope wearing a pair of handmade
buffalo skin slippers. He quickly drew a crowd of pedestrians,
who saw Petit and his pole seemingly suspended in mid-air: from their
vantage point the rope was invisible. Petit was on the rope for 45
minutes. The wind blew hard, but the artist wasn't really bothered by
this: he was dancing on the wire, and made no less than 7 crossings. At
one point, Petit even lay down on the wire, got back on his feet and
resumed the walk.
The walk across the twin towers was not his first remarkable
traverse, and certainly not his last: in 1971, Petit made headlines in
France when he illegally walked the tightrope between the two towers of
the Notre Dame in Paris. In 1973 he walked across the Sydney
Harbour Bridge, again illegally. In 1989, Petit was invited for the
bicentennial celebration of the French Revolution, and on this
occasion he walked the rope from the Trocadéro to the second floor of
the Eiffel Tower. He has also walked between the cathedral in
Frankfurt and a nearby church, and he has conducted a "peace walk" between
the Jewish and Arab sectors of Jerusalem.
Petit has been arrested many times for his high-wire poetry, but never
for long: his actions create the highest respect and admiration from
spectators. After his 1974 crossing of the twin towers, the police
arrested him for trespassing and disturbing the public order. His
sentence was a demonstration walk in Central Park. Petit's actions
played an important role in the public acceptance of the World Trade
Center when the project was nearing its completion. Up to that point,
many New Yorkers in favor of the old Empire State Building resented
the new towers.
Petit currently lives in upstate New York, but his office remains
in the city at a rather unconventional location: the
Cathedral of St. John the Divine, some 60 feet above the nave.
Now in his fifties, Petit is still active as a funambulist, and his
most daring act is still to come: crossing the Grand Canyon at
1600 feet (490 m.) above the Little Colorado River.
With respect to the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Petit
believes very strongly that the twin towers should be resurrected in
their original state. They should be a tribute to the original
buildings. And if they are, Philippe Petit will once again walk the
"If they are rebuilt, I will dance across again. I will
dance across and people will look at the sky and they will believe
again that mountains can move. They can move, you know. I have seen