Tag Archives: Athletes

Spider-Dan Goodwin’s irrepressible ascent

A front door phobia
A front door phobia

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.

 

Old Orchard Beach brothers had brains and brawn

Wlad and Stan 400World Champion wrestlers, Stanislaus and Wladek Zbyszko owned an old hotel called the Revere House, as well as 18 lucrative rental cottages at Old Orchard Beach during the first half of the 20th century. There, they conducted a training camp for professional wrestlers during the summer months. It was not unusual for tourists to see the massive athletes running on Surfside Beach in the morning before their daily workout at the Zbyszko private gymnasium.

When Stanislaus Cyganiewicz was a boy in Poland, his school chums nicknamed him “Zbyszko” after a fictional Polish knight known for superhuman bravery. He started wrestling at the age of 15, but being from a family of culture and refinement, Stan did not allow the sport to interrupt his education. By 1900 he had become fluent in a dozen languages and achieved degrees in both philosophy and law. But his remarkable physique was perfect for wrestling and before long he had devoted himself to Greco-Roman competitions.

In the meantime, his younger brother Wladek was pursuing his own law degree in Vienna. His godfather, the world famous piano virtuoso, Ignacy Paderewski, had taught him to play the piano and, as a boy, Wlad thought of little else. Though he was built like his brother he never intended to become a professional wrestler. As a young man, his best friends were opera singers and musicians. Wladek took his brother’s fictional surname and wrestled professionally in the United States just to bide his time during World War I. After an embarrassing defeat in 1915, he spent a summer training at Old Orchard Beach where he gained 40 pounds of muscle. Two years later, he purchased the first of nine lots at Surfside Beach and won the Boston version of the World Heavyweight Championship by defeating Ed “Strangler” Lewis.

Older brother Stanislous was held prisoner in Russia during the war. A competitor had told Russian authorities that Zbyszko was actually a spy pretending to be a professional wrestler. To gain his freedom, he was forced to beat one of Europe’s greatest wrestlers.

After the war, family friend Ignacy Paderewski became the prime minister of a newly independent Poland. Stanislaus Zbszko served as his right-hand man. When Paderewski stepped down as prime minister in December of 1919, Stanislous joined his brother in Maine and resumed his wrestling career. During the 1920s, he held the World Heavyweight Championship. With wrestling proceeds, he purchased The Revere House and additional cottage lots on Old Orchard Beach.

In 1921 Wladek was nearly undefeated on a wrestling tour of Cuba. One opponent he could not best was a 5-foot, 100-pound senorita named Amelia Diaz. She was so dainty and chic and beautiful that Wlad became obsessed with her. A fast and furious courtship culminated in a Cuban wedding. According to the manifest of the ship that delivered the newlyweds to New York, Amelia was 15 years old at the time. Her husband was 30.

Wladek took his baby-doll bride to Old Orchard. At first they appeared to be very happy. She was proud of her 6-foot, 240-pound strongman and he idolized her. When winter came, their neighbors began to suspect that the honeymoon was over. Wladek was rarely seen. When he was, he was doing the laundry and scrubbing the floors. One day a grocery boy saw the mighty Wladek Zbyszko wearing an apron and washing the dinner dishes while his tiny wife threatened him with a rolling pin.

The couple had been married for less than two years when Amelia’s mother arrived to take her back to Cuba. Wladek, the gentle giant, was granted a divorce on the grounds of cruel and abusive treatment by his much smaller wife.

Stanislous had his own girl troubles. In 1929, he filed suit against William Randolph Hearst and the New York American, claiming that the newspaper destroyed his wife Anna’s physical affection for him by printing his photograph beside one of a gorilla — as an argument for the theory of evolution. The caption read, “Stanislaus Zbyszko, the wrestler, not fundamentally different from the gorilla in physique.” Stan was awarded $25,000 by the court. Soon after, a Winnipeg music teacher successfully sued Stanislous for breach of promise to marry her. Stan had been married to his Polish wife Anna since 1917. Perhaps the music he made with the Winnipeg teacher was the real reason Anna lost interest in her husband.

Wlad and Stan lost most of their wrestling and real estate fortune during the Great Depression. In November of 1938, four of their Old Orchard Beach cottages burned in one night. The brothers Zbyszko retired to a pig farm near Savannah, Mo., where they trained amateur wrestlers in exchange for farm labor. Anna Zbyszko stayed behind to tend the remaining Old Orchard Beach rental cottages.