Daring the Falls

A tightrope walk across Niagara Falls. The first and last time I saw this feat “performed” was in The Big Circus (1959); a now largely forgotten film starring Victor Mature. In an effort to attract publicity for a financially beleaguered traveling circus, aerialist Zach Colino (Gilbert Roland) braves the roiling (and, at the time, marvelous) special effects to bring delight to kids of all ages.

Last night’s tightrope walk, of course, wasn’t a cinematic diversion but the real deal; performed, not by an actor, but by the one and only Nik Wallenda, seventh-generation daredevil offspring of the legendary Flying Wallenda Family.

For some, there will be an asterisk. ABC made Mr. Wallenda wear a safety harness, which trailed behind him on the wire. Perhaps in that regard, the walk was tamer than the exploits of his forebears. His great-grandfather Karl, who founded the Flying Wallendas, died in 1978 attempting to walk between two buildings in Puerto Rico.

“Of course I thought of my great-grandfather when I got out there,” Nik Wallenda said. “This is all to pay tribute to him. Nothing that I do is to ever, ever outshine my great-grandfather; it’s all to pay respect to him.”

With waters roiling below him and heavy mist above him, Mr. Wallenda said it had been hard to focus on the wire. Nonetheless, he felt peace.

“It’s breathtaking,” he said. “It was absolutely amazing to have that view.”  NYT

The last successful walk across the Falls occurred in July 1896 when James Hardy stepped into the spotlight. In that more freewheeling era, Hardy actually made several crossings to thrill the crowds. He was only 21 and remains the youngest person to dare the wire at Niagara.

In 1867, 23-year-old Maria Spelterina became the only woman to cross the Falls…backwards, with a paper bag over her head and peach baskets on her feet, for dramatic effect.

Maria Spelterina Over the Gorge

(see Niagara Falls Stunts & Daredevils: History)

Nevertheless, my congratulations to Nik Wallenda. It was a superb stunt. My most thrilling act of derring-do is confined, upon comatosely waking up in the morning, to finding my way to the bathroom without falling through a window.