Philippe Petit on a cable between the WTC towers; ca. 1974
Life should be lived on the edge of life; you have to exercise rebellion:
to refuse to taper yourself to rules, to refuse your own success,
to refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day, every year, every idea as a true challenge,
and then you are going to live your life on a tightrope.
I really really enjoyed the documentary Man on Wire from a historical aspect; but Petit was a bit of an ass. In the end, he seemed like he just sort of abandoned his friends once he got recognition. His one buddy got banned for life from the US and he didn’t seem to care, and as soon as he got released rather than go visit his girlfriend he shacked up in a hotel with some random girl for a couple of days. Ugh!
*On 9/11/2003, Petit wrote the most poignant eulogy for the Twin Towers. It draws upon a lesson he learned in coping with the death of his young daughter in the 1990s.
On October 1, 1995, Robert Overacker rode a jet ski over Niagara falls to raise awareness about the homeless. He was killed when his parachute failed to open.
“Robert Overacker, a 39-year-old man from Camarillo, California, went over the Canadian Horseshoe Falls at approximately 12:35 p.m. October 1st on a single jet ski.
Entering the Niagara River near the Canadian Niagara Power Plant, he started skiing toward the Falls. At the brink, he attempted to discharge a rocket propelled parachute that was on his back. It failed to discharge. His brother and a friend witnessed the stunt.
At first it seemed that he had survived the plunge, but the rapids have a strange way of flailing a corpses’ arms around, often giving the appearance of a person swimming. Robert Overacker was later retrieved from the water, taken to Niagara General Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
His body was recovered by Maid of the Mist staff. Overacker, married with no children, became the fifteenth person since 1901 to intentionally go over the Falls in or on a device.” (Source)
Franz Reichelt “The Flying Tailor” created a jacket that doubled as a parachute and tested it by jumping off of the Eiffel Tower. (It ended in tragedy.)
Franz Reichelt, an Austrian tailor who later moved to France, was obsessed with the idea of human flight. He was an early designer of a basically frameless parachute made out of nothing more than silk, some rubber and a couple of rods. Late 18th century parachute experiments by Louis-Sebastien Lenormand or Jean-Pierre Blanchard – experiments that are seen as successes – had relied on fixed-canopy solutions, which means that the parachute was already open at the time of the exit. These designs were well suited for high altitudes.
When Franz Reichelt began to work on his design in the summer of 1910, he was aiming at a “parachute-suit” to be worn by the jumper, a suit that had to be folded out before the leap by spreading the arms. With his “bat-suit”, as the public called it, Reichelt was hoping to have come up with a parachute suited for low altitude jumps and jumps out of airplanes. (Here, tests had regularly ended in the death of the aviators.)
Reichelt’s suit had successfully landed dummies thrown out of his apartment window on the fifth floor; as he kept pushing his design forward to reduce the weight to about 9 kilograms, dummy tests failed. Reichelt, the Flying Tailor, kept asking police officials for the permission to conduct a test from the Eiffel tower. After some back and forth, he was granted a permission for dummy tests in February 1912.
At 7 a.m. on February 4th in 1912, Reichelt arrived at the Eiffel tower in a car, already clad in his bat-suit. He declared he would jump himself rather than using a dummy. Friends and bystanders tried to persuade him not to do it, but at 8.22 a.m., Franz Reichelt unfolded his suit standing on a chair on a bar table and jumped from 57 meters off into the icy Parisian air.
The suit did not catch air as Reichelt had hoped it would. After five seconds of free fall, he was dead in an instant. His crushed body left a 14cm deep crater in the frozen ground underneath the tower.