On this day in 1974, a young man who had sneaked past guards at the World Trade Centre in New York, made his way to the top of one of the towers and connected a steel cable across to the other, spent the next 45 minutes tightrope-walking between the two, 1,350 feet above the ground.
Philippe Petit, a 24-year-old French wire walker, juggler, and street performer, walked, danced, kneeled, and lay on the wire that he had secured with the help of friends at the top of the opposite tower. After returning to the rooftop, he was arrested.
Petit had first entered the World Trade Centre in January to plan what he called his ‘coup’; at the time the buildings were not fully occupied, but Petit had had to use staircases and escalators to evade the buildings’ guards. It had taken him an hour to reach the 110th floor.
He had returned to New York from Paris in April, began making money through street performance, and sneaked into the Twin Towers as often as he could to make notes in preparation for his incredible stunt.
He determined the distance between the two buildings and established that in windy weather, it was difficult even to stand on the top of the towers without holding on to something; also that in very strong winds, the buildings swayed enough to snap a steel cable tensioned between them.
Finally, on the afternoon of August 6, Petit and six accomplices disguised as delivery men gained access to the World Trade Centre with forged passes and made their way into the towers, where they remained hidden until construction workers left. Then, they began rigging the cable.
Preparations would not be complete until around 7am the next morning, at which point the workers – along with security guards – returned. But by that time, Petit was already walking and re-walking the length of the wire.
After being detained by the guards, he was taken to hospital for psychiatric evaluation, then released – and for a short time, was one of the most famous men in America. He remained in the country, and continues to perform wire walks professionally and give talks and lectures.