The Twin Towers have always loomed large, literally, in American culture. Upon their completion in 1973, the New York City skyscrapers were briefly the two tallest buildings in the world (the North Tower rising to 1,368 feet, the South Tower at 1,362 feet) — holding that title for two years following the Empire State Building’s four-decade run. And until the horrific destruction of Sept. 11, 2001, those dizzying heights were a beacon for the world’s aerial adventurers, inspiring some iconic stunts along the way.
It didn’t take long for observers to start dreaming up feats of bravery: In August 1974, the year after construction was finished, French high-wire acrobat Philippe Petit pulled off what could be the most famous moment: walking eight times across a steel cable between the towers.
“I was shocked by that question of ‘why,'” he recalled in 2018. “I never thought ‘why.’ I did it because I am a wire walker and I fell in love with the Twin Towers. I wanted to do something inspiring and poetic, memorable. … My English was very bad at the time, so I came up with this one-liner: ‘Why? Because when I see three oranges, I juggle, and when I see two towers, I walk.”
Like Petit, some were propelled by a raw sense of curiosity. Others had causes in mind. The rest of us onlookers, either watching on national news or gazing up in person, were thrilled at the spectacle. Check out our recap of the four most memorable World Trade Center stunts below.