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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Urban Night Climbers





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For a full night climbing experience, click and play audio link to accompany your reading.

Many years ago, in a conversation with a customer, the subject somehow turned to my childhood love of tree climbing. My customer was VERY pleased to hear this and encouraged me to rekindle this interest, embrace some trees, or perhaps even join him and his friends in their nocturnal sojourns. He was a night climber. Of buildings.

New York City is a city that never sleeps. We are known for our night clubs, night life and night people - but night climbers of buildings? I was not aware that there was an underground fraternity of those who practice buildering, aka urban climbing, stegophily, or structuring.

The press has covered the various climbing spectaculars of the city - Philippe Petit's legendary walk between the world trade towers on August 7, 1974. George Willig, a mountain-climber from Queens, New York, United States, climbed the South Tower of the World Trade Center on May 26, 1977. Alain Robert is a French rock and urban climber who in 1994 scaled the Empire State Building and on June 5, 2008, climbed the New York Times Building (later that day, Renaldo Clarke also climbed the building). Dan Goodwin, using suction cups and a camming device, climbed the North Tower of the World Trade Center on May 30, 1983.

But recreational buildering goes back much further than might be expected, at least to Victorian times in England, where students had been climbing the architecture of Cambridge University. Geoffrey Winthrop Young was roof climbing there in the 1890s and published The Roof Climber's Guide to Trinity in 1900. In 1937, The Night Climbers of Cambridge was written (under the pseudonym Whipplesnaith) about the nocturnal climbing on the town buildings and colleges of Cambridge, England in the 1930s.

In the United States, two men, George Polley and Harry Gardiner, both nicknamed the Human Fly, pioneered buildering as early as 1905. In 1920, George Polley climbed 30 floors of the Woolworth building before being arrested. Not much, however, is written about current recreational nighttime buildering in New York City, for obvious reasons. In 2008, the New York Times published an article with a little on the activity.

Apart from legality or prudence, I do understand the lure of urban climbing. Much as the alpine areas of the world are magnets for rock climbers, the buildings and skyscrapers of New York City provide the same challenges and draw in masonry, steel and glass. Perhaps I may yet get to witness the activities of these urban night climbers...

Photo Note: I was recently privy to access to one of the very few rooftops in the Village affording a direct view of Washington Square Park. The building and friends kind enough to invite me to share the view, will, in the spirit of buildering, remain a secret :)

10 comments:

Judit said...

Thanks for your posts that makes me feel connected with NY

Sally Darling said...

What can I say? I am still speechless. The most amazing, unexpected nights of all time! How can I ever re-pay everyone!?

Lucy said...

When I started reading this article, I was going to draw your attention to the Cambridge night climbers (I live near Cambridge)! Again, a very interesting article from you, thank you!

My said...

Brian, great photos, they make me miss NYC. Always I love your writing and whole blog as much as I love you, my "big head"!

Glayki said...

adorable post!
amazing pics!
thank you!

Susan said...

These photos are amazing - especially the one with the Mews in the foreground!

Sprinkler said...

Wow, what an absolutely amazing picture! You have no idea how thrilled I am to have discovered this blog. New York City has fascinated me for years and it is a dream of mine to visit it some day. But in the meantime, how lovely to be able to see all these wonderfully evocative pictures!

Thank you for sharing them.

Anonymous said...

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ToKo said...

Do you have an idea if there are some "public" rooftops where I can get up to simply by using an elevator? Are are most of them private and not accessible?

Brian Dubé said...

Toko, Boy, that's a good one. The best documented are rooftap bars. I would just do an internet search "public rooftops nyc"- you will get a large number of ideas.