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At least a few of the people walking past the Sears Tower in Chicago on Memorial Day in 1981 likely looked up to fully take in what was then the tallest building in the world.
But on that day, they saw much more than just the massive skyscraper now known as the Willis Tower. They also saw Dan Goodwin, a 25-year-old Mainer dressed as Spider-Man, scaling the facade of the 1,454-foot building using the giant suction cups fastened to his hands and feet. Everyone, from passersby to the Chicago Fire Department, was shocked: no one had ever climbed a building that tall, and the climber was working without a net.
Goodwin, who was born and raised in Kennebunkport, from then on would forever be known as “Spider-Dan” — even if he only wore his Spider-Man suit a few more times as he scaled more tall buildings, cliff faces, towers and other intimidating heights over the next several decades.
According to a 2010 article in the Portsmouth Herald, Goodwin grew up near Cape Porpoise, and graduated from Kennebunk High School in 1974. As a child, he loved to climb trees. When he was a teenager, he climbed one of the tallest trees in Portland, and police tried to get him down using a cherry picker, but he said he was too fast for them to catch.
After graduating from high school, Goodwin spent a few years around 1976 living on a farm in Garland with his then-wife, Donna, according to a May 1981 Bangor Daily News article, and also worked in Maine’s blueberry industry. Goodwin’s neighbor in Garland, Barry Esler, said he thought the young man was capable of just about anything.
“He was a pretty rugged boy, Danny was. He had quite a lot of experience rock-climbing,” Esler said.
Eventually, Goodwin moved from rural Maine to Las Vegas to work as an acrobat and gymnast at the Tropicana. It was there that in November 1980 he witnessed the devastating MGM Grand fire, in which 85 people were killed. Believing one reason the death toll was so high was due to the fact that firefighters were unable to rescue people from their windows, Goodwin devised a rescue plan that involved scaling the building and using baskets to get people out. The Las Vegas fire chief told Goodwin he first needed to learn how to climb a tall building to really understand how it could work.
That’s exactly what Goodwin did six months later in Chicago. After donning his homemade Spider-Man suit, his Sears Tower climb began at 3 a.m. on Monday, May 25. It reportedly took him more than seven hours to reach the 110th floor, using suction cups to grab onto the glass, and metal hooks to lock into slots where window-washing scaffolds would normally go.
Several hundred people gathered that morning to watch Goodwin climb, according to an article published last week in the Chicago Tribune.
“It was a snap for him — almost like walking up stairs,” Chicago Patrolman Jack Rimkus told the Tribune back in 1981. “He’s a real nice kid, and this is just something he had to do.”
Though the crowd below was entranced, the Chicago Fire Department and security at the Sears Tower were none too pleased with Goodwin’s stunt. A security guard reportedly angrily stuck a note to a window, which Goodwin ignored. Firefighters attempted to get him to stop, but eventually agreed to let him finish his climb — as long as they were allowed to follow him with a scaffold, as a kind of safety net.
Goodwin made it to the roof around 10:30 a.m., and was promptly arrested. He was bailed out the next day, still dressed in the Spider-Man costume, and held court with reporters that afternoon. He was eventually fined $35 for disorderly conduct.
“Spider-Dan” wasn’t done with Chicago. On Nov. 1, 1981, Goodwin attempted to climb Chicago’s 1,128-foot John Hancock Tower, though his equipment failed and he had to stop not long after he started. Six days later, he climbed the 886-foot Renaissance Tower in Dallas, then the tallest building in the city. After reaching the top, police officers shook his hand — and then arrested him for criminal trespassing.
Undeterred, Goodwin returned to Chicago on Nov. 11 to attempt to climb the John Hancock Tower again. That time, he succeeded, though firefighters actually sprayed him with a hose in an attempt to get him to give up his climb. Police charged him with criminal trespassing and performing an aerial act without the use of safety equipment, and a judge gave him a year of probation and forbade him from doing any “public stunts.”
Though Goodwin wasn’t allowed to do any building climbs in the U.S., that didn’t mean he couldn’t do them in another country. In February 1982, he scaled two skyscrapers in Caracas, Venezuela. Once his probation was over in 1983, Goodwin came back to the U.S. and set his sights on an even bigger building: the World Trade Center in New York. On Memorial Day 1983, he scaled the North Tower, planting a U.S. flag at the top to honor Americans who died in wars.
Six weeks after climbing the World Trade Center, Goodwin was arrested yet again — this time, in York, Maine, where on July 8 he attempted to climb the 100-foot Bald Head Cliff. The owner of the Cliff House Hotel, adjacent to the cliffs, called the York police. Cops arrested Goodwin for trespassing just as he was beginning his ascent — something the fire departments in Chicago, Dallas and New York weren’t able to do.
Goodwin would later climb the CN Tower in Toronto in 1986, which was then the world’s tallest structure. In 2010, he climbed the Millenium Tower in San Francisco, and most recently, he climbed the Torre Telefonica Chile in Santiago, Chile in 2014.
In addition to his building climbs, Goodwin is also an accomplished rock climber, and has made a number of high-profile first ascents, including in August 1984 at Quoddy Head State Park in Lubec. There, Goodwin established four wildly difficult climbs on the park’s imposing black cliffs, dubbed Triangulation, Yellow Dagger, Stiletto and, most legendary among rock climbers,
Maniac, reputedly one of the most dangerous climbs in the country.
After Goodwin’s 1984 ascent of Maniac, no one was recorded climbing it again for nearly three decades, with some in the climbing world believing it was more myth than truth. That was, until 2011, when Alex Honnold — subject of the Oscar-winning 2018 documentary “Free Solo” — successfully climbed it.
Though Goodwin, now 65 and living in California, doesn’t make many high-profile climbs these days, he does stay busy as a motivational speaker and consultant. In the late 1980s, he worked as a commentator for CBS Sports during the first-ever International Sport Climbing Competition, and in the 1990s, he wrote a bill called the Skyscraper Defense Act that failed to reach Congress.
In 2000, Goodwin was diagnosed with stage 4 bladder cancer, which he is presently in recovery from; his 2010 climb of the Millenium Tower in San Francisco was his celebration of being 10 years cancer-free. In 2019, Goodwin released a podcast series called “Chemo Crazy” about his experience.
In 2010, he wrote a memoir, “Skyscraperman,” with a forward written by legendary Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, who had become a fan of Goodwin’s after his initial Sears Tower climb in the Spider-Man costume — the character that Lee created.
“I would think that anybody who could climb the world’s tallest building would have to be considered some sort of a legend,” Lee said in a 2014 TV interview. “I would like to think that his climbing the building was definitely a tribute to the spirit, to the essence, to the heroism that is Spider-Man.”