A Brief History
On May 26, 1977, daredevil George Willig, a toymaker from Queens, climbed the South (#2) tower of the World Trade Center. Willig climbed the 110 story skyscraper (the 3rd tallest building in the world at the time) using specialized clamps designed to use built in brackets in the windows.
Not only did Willig face the possibility of a traumatic landing if he fell from as high as 1300 feet, he was slammed with a $1.10 fine when he was arrested afterwards. (Not a typo, just a dollar ten.) As stupid as this stunt seems to “normal” people, Willig parlayed his stunt into multiple appearances on television, work as a stuntman, and the basis for a book he wrote.
People just feel compelled to pull goofy, dangerous stunts throughout history, especially lately. After all, someone had to be the first to bungee jump using only local vines as their “bungee,” and some thick soled soul had to be the first to walk across hot coals.
Evel Knievel and his daredevil brethren thrill us with daring leaps in cars and motorcycles over ever increasing numbers of cars, buses, or other such obstacles. Youths ride their bikes or skateboards off ramps into break neck defying twists and turns in the air, courting disaster at every attempt. YouTube is full of amateur daredevils attempting and often (most amusingly) failing ridiculous stunts. All sorts of television shows feature such folly, and the crew from Jackass made successful movies of their painful and/or sickening hijinks.
Ridiculously daring tightrope walking is a favorite of the voyeuristic public, whether it is between the World Trade Center Towers (1974) or across Niagara Falls (2012). Note: Others walked the tight rope across Niagara way back in the 1800’s, but not directly over the falls. Tight rope walking needs ever taller buildings, wider and deeper canyons, or bigger alligators to cross over to keep our attention. And the daredevils are too happy to provide the thrills.
Wing walking on airplanes without a parachute or a tether provided thrills for early aviation audiences. I hope helmets were provided for protection from falling daredevils!
Dangerous long distance swims, swims with sharks, record breaking free dives, jumping out of balloons at the edge of space into a supersonic fall, how can you hope to one up these stunts? Stick your head in a lion’s mouth? In a crocodile’s mouth? Anyone can do it, once!
Question for students (and subscribers): What separates man from animals? Probably the willingness to take ridiculous risks for no reason other than the thrill of it. Feel free to tell us what your favorite dangerous stunts are in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Willig, George. Going It Alone. Doubleday, 1979.