Remembering Philippe Petit’s High-Wire Walk 43 Years Later

A cover of The New Yorker pays tribute to Philippe Petit’s high-wire walk. The cover illustration shows Petit balancing on a white background. The back cover illustration shows him above two square footprints in lower Manhattan where the Twin Towers used to be.
Philippe Petit’s balancing act inspires this New Yorker cover published five years after 9/11. Courtesy of the artists.

During the early morning hours of Aug. 7, 1974, 24-year-old French high-wire artist Philippe Petit took his position at 1,350 feet above ground on the edge of the South Tower. High above the streets of New York, Petit began the 131-foot walk between the Twin Towers with no net.

Six years prior, Petit had started planning “le coup,” which is what he called the unauthorized performance in the sky. He spent the ensuing years learning everything he could about the buildings and their construction. “If I see two towers, I have to walk,” said Petit. “Anything that is giant and manmade strikes me in an awesome way and calls me.”

Petit didn’t just walk; he performed for the crowd of thousands that gathered as he walked back and forth for 45 minutes, laid down, saluted the sky and waved hello to birds in flight. Called the “artistic crime of the century,” Petit was arrested after his performance, but the charges were dropped in exchange of a free kids show in Central Park.

“Soaring Spirit,” John Mavroudis and Owen Smith’s double cover for the Sept. 11, 2006, issue of The New Yorker pays tribute to Petit’s breathtaking walk, which was nostalgically recalled by many after the towers fell. See this and more New Yorker covers in the exhibition “Cover Stories: Remembering the Twin Towers on The New Yorker,” now on view at the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

By 9/11 Memorial Staff

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