Philippe Petit

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Philippe Petit
Born August 13, 1949 (1949-08-13) (age 59)
Nemours, France
Occupation High wire artist

Philippe Petit (born August 13, 1949) is a French high wire artist who gained fame for his high-wire walk between the Twin Towers in New York City on August 7, 1974.[1] For his feat, he used a 450-pound cable and a custom-made 26-foot (7.9 m) long, 55-pound balancing pole.

Tight-rope walker, unicyclist, magician and pantomime artist, Petit was also one of the earliest modern day street jugglers in Paris, having begun his career in 1968. He juggled and worked on a slack rope with regularity in Washington Square Park in New York City in the early 1970s. Other famous structures he has used for tightrope walks include Notre Dame de Paris, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Louisiana Superdome, the Hennepin County Government Center, and between the Palais de Chaillot and the Eiffel Tower. The documentary film Man on Wire by UK director James Marsh, about Petit's WTC performance won both the World Cinema Jury and Audience awards at the Sundance Film Festival 2008. The film also won awards at the 2008 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, N.C. and won the Academy Award for best documentary.

Petit is one of the Artists-in-Residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. He currently lives in Woodstock, New York.


[edit] The 1974 World Trade Center walk

[edit] Planning

Petit was first inspired while he sat in his dentist's office in Paris in 1968. He came upon an article on the as-yet unbuilt towers, along with an illustration of the model. He then became obsessed with the towers, collecting articles on them whenever possible. Petit also traveled to New York on several occasions to make first-hand observations. Since the towers were still under construction, Philippe and a NY based photographer went up in a helicopter to do aerial photographs of the WTC.[2]

Using his own observations and photographs, Petit was able to make a scale model of the towers to help him figure out the rigging he needed to prepare for the upcoming wirewalk. Petit made fake identification cards for himself and his collaborators (claiming that they were contractors that were installing an electrified fence on the roof) in order to gain access to the towers. Prior to this, Petit had snuck 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.

To make it easier to sneak into the buildings, Petit carefully observed the clothes worn by construction workers and the kinds of tools they carried, as well as the clothing of businessmen so that he would blend in with them when he tried to enter the buildings. He also noted what time the workers arrived and left, so he could determine when he would have roof access. He once even claimed that he was with a French architecture magazine wanting to interview the workers on the roof. The Port Authority allowed Petit to conduct the interviews, but the real reason he wanted to be up on the roof was 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.

Petit and his crew were able to ride in a freight elevator to the 104th floor with their equipment the day before the walk, and were able to store this equipment just nineteen steps from the roof. In order to pass the cable across the void, Petit and his crew decided to use 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. Cavalettis (guy lines) were used to stabilize the cable and keep the swaying of the wire to a minimum.[2] For the first time in the history of the Twin Towers, they were joined. The 'artistic crime of the century' took six years of planning, during which he learned everything he could about the buildings, taking into account such problems as the swaying of the towers because of wind and how to get the steel walk cable across the 140-foot (43 m) gap between the towers (at a height of 1,368 ft (417.0 m)).

[edit] Walking

On August 7, 1974, shortly after 7:15 a.m., Petit stepped off the South Tower and onto his 3/4" 6×19 IWRC (independent wire rope core [3]) steel cable. The 24-year-old Petit made eight crossings between the mostly-finished towers, a quarter mile above the sidewalks of Manhattan, in an event that lasted about 45 minutes. During that time, in addition to walking, he sat on the wire, gave knee salute and, while lying on the wire, spoke with a gull circling above his head.

Port Authority Police Department Sgt. Charles Daniels, who was dispatched to the roof to bring Petit down, 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....[E]verybody was spellbound in the watching of it.[4]

Petit was warned by his friend on the South tower that a police helicopter would come to pick him off the wire. Rain had begun to fall and Petit decided he had tempted the gods long enough, so he decided to give himself up to the police waiting for him on the South tower. He was arrested once he stepped off the wire. The police – provoked by his taunting behaviour while on the wire – handcuffed him behind his back and roughly pushed him down a flight of stairs. This he later described as the most dangerous part of the stunt.[5]

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."

[edit] 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 (which has now become Turtle Pond.) Petit was also presented with a lifetime pass to the Twin Towers' Observation Deck by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. His signature was on a steel beam close to the point where he began his walk.

Petit's high-wire walk is credited with bringing the then rather unpopular Twin Towers much needed popular attention and affection.[citation needed] Up to that point, people such as technology historian Lewis Mumford had regarded them as ugly and utilitarian, and the not-yet completed buildings were having trouble renting their office space.[6]

[edit] Other walks

His first major walk was crossing the towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral in France.[7].

In [1973], about a year before the World Trade Center walk, he performed a similar stunt in Sydney, Australia walking across to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.[8]

[edit] World Trade Center Memorial

There has been talk about creating a memorial tight rope walk in the new Freedom Tower complex. The rope would be scaled down to coincide with the memorial Twin Towers and allow visitors to participate in Philippe's historic walk in between the towers in the 1970s.

[edit] Bibliography

  • Philippe Petit, Two towers, I walk, (New York: Reader's Digest, 1975), ASIN B00072LQRM.
  • Philippe Petit, On The High Wire, Preface by Marcel Marceau, (New York: Random House, 1985). ISBN 039471573X.
  • Philippe Petit, Traité du funambulisme, Preface by Paul Auster, (Paris: Albin Michel, 1997), ISBN 2226041230, (in French / en français).
  • Philippe Petit, To Reach The Clouds: My High Wire Walk Between The Twin Towers, (New York, North Point Press, 2002). ASIN B000UDX0JA, ISBN 0865476519
  • Philippe Petit, "Alcanzar las nubes", Alpha Decay, Barcelona, 2007. ISBN 978-84-934868-9-1

[edit] References

  1. ^ "Stuntman, Eluding Guards, Walks a Tightrope Between Trade Center Towers; Free Performance Due 200 Planning Trips.". New York Times. August 8, 1974, Thursday. Retrieved on 2008-04-18. "Combining the cunning of a second-story man with the nerve of an Evel Knievel, a French high-wire artist snuck past guards at the World Trade center, ran a cable between the tops of its twin towers and tightrope-walked across it yesterday morning." 
  2. ^ a b Marsh, James (Director). (2008). Man on Wire [Documentary].
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ "People & Events: Philippe Petit (1948-)" in Episode 8: The Center of the World of New York City: A Documentary Film broadcast on American Experience, Public Broadcasting Service in 2003
  5. ^ Yabroff, Jennie (2008-07-18). "He Had New York At His Feet". Newsweek. Retrieved on 2008-08-17. 
  6. ^ "Before & After; Talking of the Towers"
  7. ^ Man on Wire DVD, 13:00-14:00
  8. ^ Man On Wire DVD, "Philippe Petit's Syndey Harbor Bridge Crossing" bonus feature.

[edit] Further reading

[edit] External links

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