Philippe Petit was a young man sitting in a dentist’s office when he saw the Twin Towers — or rather, a newspaper photo depicting the drawings for the future building that would emerge in New York City — for the first time. At that moment, a dream sparked inside of Petit’s heart and soul, a dream that would take Petit across the world and change the course of his very life.
Ever since he had first laid eyes on them, Petit knew that he was destined to walk between the Twin Towers. “I felt as if I had to conquer the Towers… like they were built just for me.”
One could say that Philippes’ main goal in life was to conquer, and he did this through his art of tightrope walking. He chose various “stages” to perform on, from parks to bridges to cathedrals. He especially got a rush from performing in spaces where he was not permitted to be, although he and his friends never thought of any of his performances as illegal.
“Sure,” said one of Philippes’ friends, “it might have been against the law, but it was not wicked or mean… it was wonderful.”
To most people, Philippe’s ambitions for tightrope walking may seem crazy, but it is precisely that craziness that seems to drive Petit to push himself as far as possible. Every time he steps on the rope, he is literally face to face with death and this was especially the case when he walked between the Twin Towers.
Regarding the subject of death, Philippe has said, “… and if I die (while walking)? What a beautiful death that would be, to die in the exercise of your passion!”
The night before Philippe was set to perform between the Towers, he and his men slipped into the two buildings and made their way up to the top floor. So close to being caught by security guards, their luck exceeded their misfortune, and they managed to make their way to the roof without being noticed. One moment was very close — Philippe and a friend had to hide under a tarp and stand still for hours on a beam above a long drop. Another major misstep was letting the cable slip out of their hands, resulting in having them slowly pull the hundreds of feet of wire back up to the roof, finishing just before dawn.
The hardest part, Philippe observed later, was the first step from the ground (roof) to the wire. One of Philippe’s friends who was on the roof of the other Tower said, “I’ve never seen such concentration like that, and I probably never will again in my life… it was just… what he does.”
Petit performed on the wire for 45 minutes, eight crossings between the Towers, a profound moment for everyone involved.
On that wondrous August day, Philippe Petit became a symbol of grace, freedom, and self-expression.