George Willig climbs World Trade Center

Climbing mountains is hard enough; climbing the smooth vertical walls of skyscrapers is impossible for most. George Willig was certainly not most, and paid no attention to the guards shouting he is crazy, twenty five feet beneath him as he started climbing the second-tallest building in the world. Willig had surreptitiously tested his equipment before, in a couple of nightly runs. His ascendeur device, which he fashioned at home on his own and designed to lock into the channels used by window-washers, worked without a hitch. Just in case, Willig brought with him two others, and a failsafe mechanism.

On this day, May 26, 1977, beginning at 20 minutes after 6 a.m., Willig began his ascent up the World Trade Center. He finished just about three hours later, swinging his leg over a ledge on the roof, met there by a rather friendly policeman who congratulated Payne on his accomplishment, requested his autograph and then handcuffed him.

Payne was charged with disorderly conduct, criminal trespass and scaling a building without a permit. And his friend, who shortly after the climb shouted to him “Go, George, go!” was arrested as an accomplice. There was talk of the city suing Payne for $250,000 for the cost of the response to his stunt, but the next day Payne settled with the mayor’s office for a fine of $1.10, a penny for each floor. And a promise to not let anyone know how he did it.