It was a scene right out of a Hollywood superhero sequel.
At 7:45 a.m Thursday, a blanket of haze hovered over the ground as downtown St. Petersburg and beyond stirred to life. Just then, with the sun burning through the morning mist, a stealthy figure in red and blue stepped over the low wall atop All Children’s Hospital and began his spine-tingling descent down the 10-story building.
All that was missing was a blast of dramatic theme music and opening credits.
The Amazing Spider-Man was in the house – or rather, on the side of it.
And there wasn’t just one Peter Parker alter-ego on the premises. There was a trio of Spideys getting down to business, lowering themselves window by window – not with trademark web shooters but with the tools of their own dangerous trade: ropes, pulleys and small wooden platforms.
The crew of High Rise Window Cleaning of Clearwater was about to give young patients, parents and staff at All Children’s an unexpected thrill by dropping in – quite literally – with a comic book cameo.
Their bold mission this day: to wipe out grime.
Only a few minutes earlier, Robert Powers and his brother John Powers along with Merrill Hunt donned the Spider-Man outfits that their boss, High Rise owner Steve Connolly, had ordered for the occasion. It was just another morning on the job, but with a very special twist.
“I’ve never done anything like this, and I’ve been washing windows for 29 years,” said Robert, pulling the suit over his street clothes. “But doing this for the kids, it feels great.”
“It’s going to be awesome,” Merrill chimed in. “Usually when we’re cleaning windows, the kids are kind of mesmerized – they’ll watch and point and laugh. But I’m really excited to do this as Spider-Man and see their reactions.”
The reactions were as quick and widespread as you might imagine when the star of four movie blockbusters in the past decade shows up – even if it’s to clean glass rather than battle bad guys.
Below, sidewalks filled with clusters of onlookers pointing to the startling sight of the Fantastic Three scaling down the concrete exterior of a tall building. And in no time, a helicopter circled the sky with a news crew filming the event. But the reaction that counted the most was the one inside the building.
Word traveled fast among nurses on the first stop, the general medical surgery floor of Eight South. They’d been alerted of the visit by the Spider guys and made sure that patients and families were ready to catch the unusual sight. A little boy too weak to talk smiled and waved as the famed crime-fighter suddenly appeared in his big picture window, swaying back and forth on a his rope, waving back and placing his hands on the pane as if attached in true Spiderman style.
On the oncology and hematology wing on the seventh floor, grandparents Richard and Catherine Allen of Lakeland couldn’t believe their eyes as they stayed with their sleeping granddaughter. “Does his mother know he’s doing this?” Catherine quipped.
Soon, the spidery crew dangled outside the windows of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit on the fifth floor, then moved on when their work was done. “I was so excited – I felt like a kid,” said a visitor, Cherie Bjaland, who took in the show. “A few doors down, grandmother Paulette Counts was sleeping on the couch below the window. She hadn’t heard anything about any unusual guests swinging by and awoke to the sight of Spider-Man in the window.
“At first, I didn’t see his rope and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” she said, laughing. “I thought I must have been dreaming!”
Several minutes later, on the sidewalk facing the hospital’s south wall, 7-year-old Kaiden peered upward with his parents, Alan and Dawn, 4-year-old sister Danica and grandmother Kathy. The costumed crime-fighters had disappeared back onto the roof, but suddenly a familiar masked character came into view, ready to climb back down to clean another row of windows.
“There he is!” Kaiden yelled as a noisy news chopper continued to loop overhead.
The distraction couldn’t have come at a better time for Kaiden, was arriving for surgery involving his tonsils. “It’s really exciting for him,” said Dawn. “He’ll definitely be telling his teacher and classmates about this.”
Kaiden jumped in unprompted to underscore the statement. “I’ve seen the Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Man 1, Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3!” he blurted out.
And now Spider-Man in triplicate, with his very own eyes.
“I just think it’s wonderful that they do this for the kids,” added his grandmother.
The idea came about when someone at All Children’s saw a picture of another children’s hospital outside of Florida make a splash with their own Spiderman window-washers. That was passed on to ACH environmental services director Michael Dansberger. Windows outside the upper floors of the hospital are cleaned once a year, and Dansberger promptly got the ball rolling.
“We thought it was a great idea so we linked up with our window cleaning vendor, High Rise, and they were very excited about doing it,” he explained.
High Rise owner Connolly loved the idea from the get go.
“I said, ‘Hey, if I can make the kids smile, sure, I’ll do it in a heartbeat,’ ” he said. “I had a hard time finding the costumes, though. But luckily, I found a company online that had three of them”
The costumes and masks posed no hazard to his employees, he said, although eye holes had to be cut on a mask to accommodate glasses worn by one of the men.
“I brought scissors and duct tape in case we had to make last-minute alterations,” he said. “It’s a risky business but we know what we’re doing.”
Connolly stayed on the roof until his Spider-Man contingent disappeared over the side, then went inside the hospital to watch the delighted reactions of kids and families.
Holly Ott, clinical coordinator for the All Children’s Child Life Department, described how much the happening meant to those kids and families undergoing such stressful times.
“Being in the hospital can be a really challenging experience for patients and families,” she said. “What we try to do is normalize the experience and I think that Spider-Man is actually an extraordinary experience for children. It really makes it very therapeutic time for them and their family.”
“I think All Children’s Hospital always goes the extra mile to make every experience for our patients and families special,” she added.
When the Spider-Men finally made it to the ground, there were plenty of hugs and smiles with kids who had been watching from the sidewalk.
About 10:30 a.m., Robert Powers – or could it have been Peter Parker? – walked back inside the All Children’s lobby in full costume, holding his water bucket. A handful of patients and grown-ups waved enthusiastically as he walked past – and if you could have looked under his mask, you’d have seen a big smile. He made sure that he waved to the entranced onlookers before resuming his high-flying feats outside.
Of course, what else would you expect from a super hero?
“This is a blast,” Robert said by the elevators. “We always like it when the kids notice us, but today – it’s been something else.”
Even for Spider-Man, only one word could describe the experience.