Photo by Chris Ware
Photo courtesy of Luckey LLC
Luckey’s climbers caught on, and they began to pop up in children’s museums across the country. He went on to install climbers in cities like Providence and Chicago, plus Reno and Houston with his son. Then, in 2005, his life turned upside down while working on a project for the new Boston Children’s Museum.
“I was going to the bathroom at four-thirty in the morning and God pushed me out the window,” he tells me. Next to the toilet was a third-story window open to an atrium below. He fainted and fell through the opening, landing head-first and breaking his neck. Luckey, then a 65-year-old father of four, was well into his second marriage when he fell. He was also a well-established artist; Luckey LLC had been going strong for two decades. Yet all was not well, and, he confesses, “I was burning out and slowing down; my marriage was failing, so God said, ‘Okay, you want change? How’s this?’
“Who I am now is very different from who I was,” continues Luckey, once the “ringmaster” type, a life-of-the-party kind of guy. He’s more patient now, and while his personality hasn’t really changed, paralysis levies a tax on the spirit that is impossible to evade. Even so, he is remarkably resilient. “I’ve taken it as a really interesting challenge,” he says, making a point to keep up with technology (he operates a computer mounted above his head via a reflective “mouse” that attaches the tip of his nose) and pursuing new creative endeavors, like writing.
His eclectic life experiences before the accident, and the subsequent wisdom with which he was able to view his own circumstances, made him the perfect subject for a documentary. “I called this documentary filmmaker,” he says. “I thought it would make a pretty interesting movie.” Luckey explored the injury’s impact on his delicate family dynamic, on his business, and on his own artistic soul. “I was going to finish up the Boston Children’s Museum design. I was having a lot of difficulty with my wife and we were all adjusting. It was a great collaboration.” The film was well received.
Today, almost seven years after the accident, Luckey LLC is thriving. Luckey is 72 and lives in East Haven, Connecticut. He and his son, Spencer, are gearing up for installations in South Korea and Indonesia, not to mention the North Bathhouse at Playland.
There, Luckey Climbers is designing a 120-foot horizontal structure that will serve as the Westchester Children’s Museum’s signature attraction. This climber is unique, in the words of the museum’s executive director, Tracy Kay. “This is more interactive—there are three points of entry and exit,” Kay says. Multiple entry and exit points will allow children to use the climber to move from exhibit to exhibit. “We’ve never done anything this horizontal or this long,” Luckey says.
Work will begin on the museum once Westchester County completes the renovation of the exterior of the North Bathhouse. Expect an opening in about two years.
Cortlandt Manor native Philip Garrity, a freelance writer for Westchester Magazine and recent college graduate, will have a go at Luckey’s Rye installation regardless of any size, weight, or age restrictions.