Throwback 70s | Vintage

He Climbed One Of The World's Tallest Building With No Ropes, Nets Or Safety Equipment, But What Happened To The Human Fly?

Alchetron / nowentermyworld/YouTube

They say that in New York City you can always tell who the tourists are: they're the ones looking up at the city's huge skyscrapers.

Most "real" New Yorkers wouldn't be caught dead looking up at the city's skyline, but they made an exception on May 26, 1977, when an unlikely stunt brought the entire city to a standstill for 3 hours. That morning, George Willig started a historic climb up Tower 2 of the World Trade Center.

At the time, the South Tower was the third tallest in the world, behind the North Tower and the Sears Tower. Starting in the early hours of May 26, Willig began a terrifying 110 story climb to the top of the tower with just a bag of water, some sandwiches, and a climbing tool he designed himself.

Police arrived on the scene very quickly, where a crowd of onlookers and reporters were already watching Willig's climb. With no other way to reach the climber, a pair of officers - including a suicide expert - boarded a window washing bucket and tried to grab Willig mid-climb.

Willig managed to avoid being pulled into the bucket, and explained that he knew what he was doing. The police tried to pass him a note to talk him out of his plan, but he only signed it "Best Wishes to my co-ascender" and passed it back to them.

So who was this daredevil, and why was he climbing the tower in the first place?

Willig later called his eye-catching stunt "just another climb," and explained that he had no reason to scale the building besides proving it could be done.

For the 27-year-old toy designer from Queens, mountain climbing was a passion. He was inspired by the climbing grooves the tower's window washers used, and built a special tool that let him easily scale the South Tower. While Willig didn't use a safety rope, his weight was supported by a gripper slotted into the building's grooves.

Even midway through the climb, when the grooves changed to a different size, Willig was able to adjust his tool and continue using the same method. By 10 a.m., 3 1/2 hours after his climb began, Willig had reached the top of the tower to cheers from the crowd below.

Before police took him into custody, they let Willig sign his name and the date on a steel bar on the tower's roof, where it remained until the building was destroyed in 2001. At first, Willig was slapped with a $250,000 fine by the city, but it was reduced to just $1.10 (a penny for every floor he climbed) by New York's Mayor Abraham Beame.

While Willig never climbed the North Tower, his reputation as "the Human Fly" earned him lots of TV appearances, and work as a stuntman on actions shows like the Six Million Dollar Man.

Willig originally said he would like to climb the building that replaced the WTC, but he might find it tough to scale the new One World Trade Center's extra 400 feet in his 60s.

Share this story if you remember Willig's climb!

[H/T: Timeline]