A “Flying Walenda” Crosses Niagara Falls on a Tight Rope

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Members of the Wallenda family practice on a 90-foot high wire at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's winter headquarters in Sarasota, Fla., March 19, 1944. (AP Photo

Nic Walenda daringly, and I do mean daringly, walked across the slippery, misty, foggy Niagara Falls on a tightrope 1800 feet above the falls today. It was a first! Now he is setting his sights on the Grand Canyon.

He is fearless and fascinating but better him than me.

Walenda said the view from above the falls was amazing. He credits prayer and concentration for his success. He described the winds coming from every direction and a powerful mist. His special shoes were made by his mother.

To his disappointment, Walenda, 33, was made to wear a tether by his sponsors, ABC. The feat cost about $1.2 million.

As far back as the late 1700’s in Austria-Hungary, the Walendas were famed acrobats, jugglers, animal trainers and trapeze artists. John Ringling of Barnum & Bailey Circus recruited them after he saw one of their rousing performances in Cuba. The family’s 1928 performance at Madison Square Garden without a safety net brought the audience to their feet for a 15 minute standing ovation.

Feats and tragedies as reported by CBS –

    • The signature performance of the group that came to be known in the 1940s as “The Flying Wallendas” was the seven-person chair pyramid: Two pairs of performers walk the wire, each supporting another aerialist on a pole. Those two aerialists, in turn, carry a pole upon which the seventh member of the troupe balances in a chair. The chair pyramid went terribly wrong in 1962 when a misstep at the State Fair Coliseum in Detroit sent two men to their deaths and paralyzed a third performer.
    • In 1944, the Wallendas were performing at a Hartford, Conn., circus when a fire broke out. All the Wallendas slid down ropes to safety but 168 people died.
    • The following year, Rietta Wallenda, sister-in-law of family patriarch Karl Wallenda, fell to her death in Omaha.
    • Family patriarch and Nik’s great-grandfather Karl Wallenda became a featured performer, doing “sky walks” between buildings and across stadiums including Busch, Veterans, JFK, Three Rivers and the Astrodome.
    • Karl Wallenda successfully crossed Tallulah Gorge on a tightrope on July 18, 1970.
    • In 1978, Karl Wallenda fell to his death while attempting to walk a cable strung between two hotel towers in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
    • Angel Wallenda, who married into the family at age 17, performed with an artificial limb on the high-wire in 1990 after being stricken with cancer and having her right leg amputated below the knee. She died at age 28 in 1996.
    • Since first stepping on a wire when he was 2, Nik Wallenda has earned six Guinness records, the latest in October 2008. That’s when, 20 stories over the streets of Newark, N.J., he traveled the longest distance and the greatest height by bicycle on a wire, riding 150 feet.
    •  In 2011, Nik and his mother Delilah honored his late great-grandfather [sic grandfather] by walking Karl’s last route at the same time, a feat that included Nik stepping over his mother in the middle of the wire.

The historical perspective follows. Even if you’re jaded from watching extreme sports and bungie jumpers, this has to impress –

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