Posted by: Staff | 11.07.2008

Man On Wire

GABBY GUTMAN ’11

manonwire

Imagine the twin towers; the tallest buildings in the world. Now imagine a wire about 2 fingers wide and 200ft long, strung from one building to another, and a man, with no harness, or anything from preventing him to fall, walking across.

Philippe Petit, a young Frenchman, fulfilled his life dream by walking across the twin towers on a wire. It was August 7, 1974, and after 6 and a half years of dreaming and planning, Philippe did something most would consider impossible. As a boy he enjoyed high wire walking, and set up a long wire to practice on. Petit had a group of friends who always supported him, and would help him practice. To him, high wire walking was an art, and if it were to ever take his life, he claimed it would be a beautiful way to die.

The dream began in his dentist’s office, the twin towers were not built yet, but a model of what they were going to look like had been published in the paper. As Philippe read this article he rushed out of the office and went to collect as much information on these new buildings as possible. In figuring out how to fulfill his dream, he visited the U.S. several times to visit the work in progress. Over the years, Petit practiced, and planned out exactly what was going to make his dream possible.

The planning began with finding where to attach the wire. The twin towers were not right next to each other, but rather they were slightly off set, so finding a place to anchor the wire was a bit difficult. They ended up attaching it to the front of one building which lines up with the back of the other one. Next, the group had to decide the best way to sneak into the building and reach the roof. Oddly enough,this was the easiest part of the planning. Petit carefully took note of the workmen’s outfits and was able to find ways to get in. The harder part was passing the guards stationed on the floors closer to the roof.

The team had anticipated that the elevator did not go all the way up, and had planned to walk up several flights of stairs. Petit and his friends entered the buildings on August 6, assuming everything would go as planned, while also assuming that the show would be the same day. But when the group got out of the elevator and began to organize their equipment to walk up the stairs, but when a guard appeared and they were forced to hide. The same thing happened in the other tower, and there was no form of communication available. (Remember that there we no cell phones back in the day.) It took somewhere around 7 hours for the guards to leave or fall asleep, and finally in the middle of the night Petits dream was becoming a reality.

It may or may not have crossed your mind yet, but how does one get 200ft of steel cable from one end to the other? Petit and his team toyed with this for a few days, and then came up with an excellent solution. It started with a bow and arrow, and they were going to begin by shooting fishing line across. Attached to that fishing line was going to be a stronger cable, which was attached to one even stronger. Several rounds of cable were attached to lead up to the final one made from steel.

The fishing line was shot across, and as the thickness of the wires attached to it increased until the actual wire was beginning to come across. Everything was going as planned until someone let the wire slip. It fell 100m down and the Petit’s dream began to slowly fade. His partners told him that they could recover what was dropped and after hours of only gaining inches at a time they anchored the rope. It took so long to pull back up because the steel cable was very heavy.

Everything was all set, and they were ready to go. It was 7:15am and Petit stepped off the South Tower and onto his 3/4″ 6×19 IWRC steel cable. He was a quarter mile high from the streets of New York City. He began walking across and saw police appear at the opposite side. As soon as he saw them he turned around and went they other way. He walked across 8 times and put on an amazing show. The reason the performance came to an end was that the police told him a helicopter would come and lift him up and away from the wire. Petit was nervous that the wind would knock him off the wire, and decided that, for his best interest, he should simply step off. He was arrested immediately and brought to a mental hospital.

Turns out, he was just an extremely motivated man trying to do the impossible. The film produced definitely inspires its audience to follow there dreams. It really speaks to the statement “you can so anything you set your mind to”.

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