On November 11, 1918, Harry Gardiner signed some insurance papers at the Bank of Hamilton and purchased a $1,000 bond. But Gardiner wasn’t technically inside the bank at the time. He was outside, dangling far above street level, practicing the little known art of buildering. After completing his business, Gardiner finished scaling the building, as his own personal way of celebrating the end of World War I.
The Chaos Book Club
Today is Day 12 of the Chaos book club. Chaos is an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. Thanks to those of you who’ve bought the novel already. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:
The Human Fly?
Buildering, or urban climbing, is the practice of scaling buildings. It supposedly began at Cambridge University sometime during the 1800s. However, I imagine that as long as people have created buildings, other people have attempted to climb them.
Buildering first reached a wide audience in 1905 when Harry Gardiner began to scale skyscrapers without equipment. Dubbed the “Human Fly” and wearing nothing but clothes, tennis shoes, and rimless spectacles, he climbed over 700 buildings in his life. His feats brought fame to himself as well as to the buildings he conquered. Recognizing a good opportunity when they saw it, companies like the Detroit News started to hire him to climb specific buildings.
The Art of Buildering Grows
In 1910, a second builderer started his own career. An owner of a clothing store, looking for publicity, hired George Polley to climb his building. Polley did so and received a suit for his efforts. Soon after, he was traveling the world and scaling buildings. Polley was a born showman and liked to “pretend to lose his grip” while climbing. As the crowd gasped, he’d reach out and grab a windowsill, stopping his descent. Over the course of his 17-year career, Polley is believed to have climbed over 2,000 buildings, including the 406 foot tall Custom Tower in Boston.
While Gardiner and Polley were the best known builderers of their era, they weren’t the only ones. Many others attempted to climb buildings, with some suffering tragic falls in the process. It wasn’t long before city officials began to legislate against buildering, turning the previously legitimate exercise into an illegal sport.
Still, buildering continues today, most notably the “French Spiderman,” Alain Robert. Earlier this year, Robert scaled the world’s tallest building, the Dubai-based 2,700 foot tall Burj Khalifa.
Buildering in Chaos
In 2008, I barely missed an opportunity to watch Alain Robert scale the New York Times building and I’ve been kicking myself ever since. The history of buildering is unique, full of personalities, and for the most part, untold.
The hero of Chaos, Cy Reed, is a skilled mountain climber. As such, he’s able to bring his skills to bear when he needs to break into the mysterious offices of ShadowFire.
Crouching on the sill, I rubbed my sore fingers. Then I carefully edged out of the frame and grabbed hold of a protruding brick. I pulled my feet onto another brick, keeping two points of contact between the building and myself.
I started to climb.
I moved hard and fast, doing my best to ignore the howling winds and drenching sheets of rain. My fingers and toes danced from bricks to vents to pipes to windowsills. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t precise but slowly, very slowly, I ascended the building.
I caught a brief rest at the fourth floor and then again at the sixth floor. Feeling renewed, I headed out again, eager to finish the climb. Eager to at last fully understand the Bell.
Rain soaked my body as I worked my way up a piece of piping to an outcropping. I lifted myself onto it and edged my way toward another pipe.
Suddenly, I heard a crack.
Something crumbled under my foot.
My hands flailed out, looking for something, anything.
Nothing. ~ David Meyer, Chaos
Well, that’s it for now. Tomorrow, we’ll be turning our attention to strange science, specifically an exotic material named Red Mercury. Once upon a time, Red Mercury was feared across the globe. Was it a hoax? Or did Red Mercury actually exist? Stop by tomorrow to find out…I hope to see you then!
Chaos Book Club
- October 17: Chaos has Arrived!
- October 24: The Story of Chaos
- October 25: The Great Train Robbery?
- October 26: Is Treasure Hunting Immoral?
- October 27: What was Operation Paperclip?
- October 28: Nazi Treasure & ODESSA?
- October 29: Do the Mole People Exist?
- October 31: FDR’s Lost Subway Car?
- November 1: Do Alligators Live in New York City Sewers?
- November 2: The Mysterious Minamata Disease?
- November 3: Die Glocke & Nazi Wonder Weapons?
- November 4: Buildering: The Art of Climbing…Skyscrapers?
- November 5: The Strange Case of Red Mercury?
- November 6: The Island of Stability?
- November 7: The Nazi Atomic Bomb?
- November 8: The Nth Country Experiment?
- November 9: Why did America really bomb Hiroshima?
- November 10: New York’s Forgotten Subway Tunnel?
- November 11: Alfred Ely Beach’s Last Secret?
- November 12: The Strange Science of Superconductors?
- November 13: What’s Next for Cyclone Reed?