Chicago’s Sears Tower had two arrivals from Kennebunkport on Memorial Day 1981. Only one was invited. Frank Handlen, your “Old News” illustrator, had sold 14 paintings meant to grace the walls of Sears Corporate Headquarters. Around the time the crate was delivered, Danny Goodwin, Kennebunk High Class of ’74, appeared at the west side of the 110-story building in a handmade spandex Spiderman costume. He intended to scale what was then the tallest building in the world.
As a boy growing up on Fishers Lane in Cape Porpoise, Goodwin writes in his recently published memoir, “SKYSCRAPERMAN,” he loved to climb trees. “So much so the police tried to arrest me for climbing one of the tallest in Portland, Maine. But despite their use of a cherry picker, they weren’t able to catch me.”
Goodwin was 25 years old and about 20 floors up when a Sears security guard angrily held a note up to the window demanding he descend. Spider-Dan, who was climbing up the window washer track, stuck a suction cup over the note and proceeded up the side of the building. Ambulances, hook and ladder trucks and helicopters were dispatched to the scene. At the 35th floor, Dan became aware that a window washing machine was descending the track in his path and that the window next to him had been removed from inside the building. Using suction cups equipped with stirrups, he scooted horizontally away from his would-be captors. Some six and a half hours and 1,450 feet into the climb, Dan duct-taped an American flag near the top of the Sears Tower.
“It was my way of thanking my father for fighting in the Korean War,” he writes.
Meanwhile, his father, Dale Goodwin, was back in Cape Porpoise, completely unaware of Danny’s plans until he was contacted by a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Though proud of his son’s courage, Dale was grateful he hadn’t known about the stunt ahead of time.
“If I’d known he was going to do this I would have been a nervous wreck,” Dale Goodwin told a reporter for the Biddeford Journal Tribune.
Brenda Buchanan, a correspondent for the York County Coast Star, talked to local folks about the feat.
“That’s Danny for you,” they told her in unison, “always looking for another adventure. Danny Goodwin — daredevil, track star, mountain climber, skier, gymnast and stuntman. Danny Goodwin — bohemian, dancer, dreamer, wanderer, always looking for something to be afraid of, climbing the cliffs over the ocean because there was nothing higher to climb.”
Well, Danny had found something higher.
As soon as he reached the top of Sears Tower he was taken to jail overnight on charges of disorderly conduct, criminal trespass and criminal damage to property.
After celebrity appearances on Johnny Carson and the Today Show, Dan pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. His fine was only $35, but Fire Commissioner William Blair threatened dire consequences should Goodwin ever attempt to climb another building in his jurisdiction.
That was a challenge Danny couldn’t resist. On Veteran’s Day he scaled Chicago’s John Hancock Center while the gathering crowd below chanted, “Let him climb. Let him climb.”
Enraged, Commissioner Blair ordered his firemen to wash “Spider Dan” Goodwin off the side of the building with a fire hose. The defiant climber clung to the building 300 feet off the ground. Unwilling to be responsible for the death of a beloved comic book hero, the Mayor of Chicago ordered Blair to shut the water off and Spider-Dan finished his ascent. Damages to the building and other expenses reportedly totaled $16,000.
This time, the sentence was a year’s probation.
When asked what possessed him to take such risks, Spider-Dan replied, “I have a new idea, a new concept for fire rescue. I needed a forum to present these ideas to the public.”
In his memoir, Goodwin writes that he was motivated to climb buildings by two life-altering experiences. After witnessing the MGM Grand Hotel fire in Las Vegas, he was haunted by the reality that firefighters had no way to rescue victims trapped on the middle floors of a skyscraper fire.
And then, a few months after the fire, Dan sustained serious injuries in a car crash. During his recovery from the accident he vowed never again to be dissuaded from his dreams.
Spider-Dan climbed the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York on Memorial Day, 1983, nearly falling to his death when the window washer track pulled away from the building. Mayor Edward Koch was not impressed.
“These stunts endanger participants, police officers and onlookers,” he said to the press. “And it cost taxpayers $4,235 just in police department man-hours and equipment.”
Somehow, Dan Goodwin always evaded authorities long enough to finish his intended climbs. Until July 1983, that is. Dan was escorted away from the Bald Head Cliff by officers of the York (Maine) Police Department.
“But three days later, he returned, after notifying local newspapers,” Brenda Buchanan wrote in the Boston Globe. “He told the officers who met him at the bottom of the cliff that he was determined to make another ascent.”
Unlike police forces in Chicago and New York City, York’s finest were able to take Spider-Dan into custody when he was just a couple feet up the cliff.