Photo Essay

  • Philippe Petit, a French high wire artist, walks across a tightrope suspended between the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York, Aug. 7, 1974.
  • French tightrope walker Philippe Petit, 24, looks back as he rests after walking across a cable stretched between New York's World Trade Center towers, August 7, 1974. Petit crossed the cable twice and at one point, hung by his heels.
  • Philippe Petit (center) answers reporter’s questions as he is escorted from Beekman Hospital by Port Authority police officer on Aug. 7, 2014. Petit was arrested after he walked a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center.
  • Philippe Petit balances off the edge of one of the World Trade Center towers on Aug. 14, 1974.
  • Philippe Petite opens the dedication of St. John The Divine by tight-roping to the cathedral in New York City, Sept. 29, 1982.
  • Philippe Petit walks between the steeples of Notre Dame in Paris, June 1971.
  • Philippe Petit walks and juggles by the Belfry of the Chamber of Commerce in Paris, France, Sept. 30, 1974.
  • French tightrope walker Philippe Petit in Manhattan, 1980.
  • Philippe Petit walking over the Great Falls in Paterson, N.J., September 1974.
  • French tightrope walker Philippe Petit at the Palais du Trocadéro Paris, France, 1984.
  • Philippe Petit practices tight rope walking at his home in upstate New York, 2008.
  • Philippe Petit guides Amye Walters on a wire during a training workshop at the Streb Lab for Action Mechanics in New York, Aug. 10, 2010.
  • Philippe Petit practices tight rope walking at his home in upstate New York, 2008.
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A death-defying balancing act remembered

Updated

Forty years ago on Aug. 7, 1974, magician and wire walker Philippe Petit left a crowd of thousands breathless as he traversed a wire strung between the Twin Towers. Eschewing a safety harness or a net, the 24-year-old walked and danced across the 130-foot gap between the towers, balanced on a one-inch thick steel cable strung at a height of 110-stories. 

In later accounts, Petit traced his inspiration for the performance back to the first time he saw a photo of the Twin Towers. He was at a dentist’s office with a toothache when he came across the image in a magazine. The 18-year-old ripped the photo out and left the office. He spent the next six years planning for the death-defying act.

Petit eventually enlisted the help of friends who spent all night secretly stringing the cable between the buildings. That morning, he first stepped onto the wire at just past 7 and then spent the next 40 minutes frolicking high in the air. Onlookers stopped on the New York City streets far below, staring up in awe.

Sporting a huge grin, he was arrested immediately after coming off the wire. The stunt turned him into an international celebrity and folk hero. The outpouring of public support led New York City to drop all formal charges. 

“There is no why,” Petit said of his reasoning for stunt. A 2008 Academy Award-winning documentary, “Man on a Wire,” recounted the incident.

In celebration of the performance’s fortieth anniversary, Petit will recreate the high-wire act using the same equipment from 1974 for a benefit event at LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton, N.Y.