In August 1974, Philippe Petit, a Frenchman with a passion for walking on wires, captivated New York City as he stealthy made his way to the top of the World Trade Center. Once there, he walked across a cable strung between the Twin Towers, a historic feat that's vividly depicted in a new documentary, Man On Wire (which will be screening tonight). The famous walk turned a void 1/4 mile above the streets into a stage, and made Petit into an instant "folk hero." He now lives upstate in Woodstock, and yesterday we talked with him about those 45 minutes between the towers, that first daring step onto the wire, and the ones that followed.
When did the idea for the walk between the Twin Towers come to you? In 1968 I was 18 years old and I saw an article about those towers. There was a photo of a model, and the article said that they would be built one day, and they would be the finest in the world. And here I was, a completely new self-taught wire walker, and I thought, "What a fabulous thing to transform the top of those towers to a theater for one morning." And that's how the idea came.
Do you remember one particular moment from that 45 minutes more prominently than any other? Well, yes and no. Of course the very first step, as you can imagine, was a giant first step. But a few moments during those crossings I remember perfectly. But that first step was a giant moment for me: I was finally stepping in to my dream. So I remember that vividly. And at some point I stopped on the wire and I sat down, and I looked down all the way – a 1/4 mile to the empty plaza below – and I stopped and saw the crowd gathering around that plaza. Yes, I remember very well many, many moments in those 45 minutes.
Can you describe at all what you were feeling when you took that first step? Yeah, I was extremely happy after all those years of dreaming and months of working on it, that now the dream was reality. And I was very concentrated and focused, in an open way, listening to...
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