New York draws daring doers

Some people think it is daring simply to live in New York City. There are such everyday heroic acts as riding the subway, coping with the anarchistic attitudes of pedestrians and motor traffic, or entering Bloomingdale's during a sale.

But if all the world's a stage, then New York just might hold the record for the wildest opening acts featuring some of the most hair-raising stunts.

In an exhibit titled ''New York's Daring,'' the Museum of the City of New York is paying tribute to these hearty characters - ranging from a man who scaled the walls of the World Trade Towers, to the dedicated firefighters who risk their lives saving others. The show will feature prints and photographs of some daring acts that have occurred between 1776 and 1984.

The earliest engraving is of a statue of King George III being toppled by jubilant colonial rebels on July 9, 1776, just after they had first heard of the Declaration of Independence.

The most recent act depicted is Stacy Chanin's endurance swim around Manhattan - three times in 33 hours and 29 minutes.

The idea for the exhibition came when a descendant of Adie Walford gave the museum a scrapbook of Miss Walford's walk across the Williamsburg Bridge on the East River.

It was no ordinary crossing. Miss Walford crossed on the cables of the bridge while it was still under construction in 1901.

Elegantly - and properly - attired in an ankle-length skirt, short jacket, and a stylish hat, she crossed the 1,600-foot span in high winds. Along the last 100 feet there were no hand rails.

Perhaps the most dizzying picture is of Phillipe Petit walking a steel cable ''no thicker than the average thumb'' between the World Trade Towers 1,350 feet above the street in 1974.

''If I see three oranges, I have to juggle,'' the exhibition quotes Mr. Petit as saying. ''If I see two towers, I have to walk.''

Petit apparently had studied the buildings since 1968, and made some 200 trips to them before he made his seven trips back and forth on the wire. He was arrested for his illegal performance and was ordered by the Manhattan district attorney to give a free performance in Central Park.

The museum show also honors such legally daring individuals as the policemen, dogs, and robot that make up the New York City Police Department Bomb Squad. Steamship experiments by John Fitch and Robert Fulton also are detailed.

And some of the most moving photos are of workers high above Manhattan erecting the 102-story Empire State Building in 1930-31.

Photographer Lewis Hines captured the work of these men, who constructed an average of 41/2 stories a week. In one 10-day period, 14 floors were finished.

Fourteen lives were lost in the building of what was to be the world's tallest building for 40 years.

The exhibit was going to be called ''Daring New Yorkers.'' But as curator Nancy Kessler-Post did research, she found that many came to New York from elsewhere.

''It's a stage,'' says Ms. Kessler-Post, and it offers ''instant notoriety and worldwide attention.''

But most daring people claim they are not after publicity. Members of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, who swim in the ocean every Sunday in the winter, say the frigid waters are good for their health, Kessler-Post says.

Indeed, ''Phillipe Petit hates to be called a dare-devil,'' she adds. ''He insists he is an artist.''

The exhibit will run through Feb. 24.

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