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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 :)