An American stuntman has become the first person in
more than a century to cross the Niagara Falls on a tightrope.
Nik Wallenda, 33, was watched by an estimated one billion TV viewers and
more than 125,000 sightseers at the famous gorge. He took 25 minutes to
traverse the 1,800ft gap from Canada to the US on a 2 in-thick steel
cable on Friday night.
The water crashed over the precipice at 65mph, 200ft below him, and he
was buffeted by swirling clouds of spray. But ignoring the No 1 rule of
tightrope-walking, he looked down as he walked, rather than straight
ahead. To aid his balance, he held a 40ft pole, attached by a brace to
his neck. He also wore a safety harness attached to the cable.
‘This is what dreams are made of,’ said Wallenda shortly after he
stepped off from a platform on the American shore. ‘I hope what I just
did inspires people to reach for the skies.’
American James Hardy, 21, made several crossings of the gorge in 1896,
but it was further from the waterfall and not as dangerous as Wallenda’s
Wallenda, whose next stunt will be an attempt to traverse the Grand
Canyon, took steady, measured steps across the mist-fogged brink of the
The daring acrobat set off around 10.15 to whoops and cheers from the
huge crowd at the atmospheric event.
An estimated crowd of 125,000 people on the Canadian side and 4,000 on
the American side watched. Along the way, he calmly prayed aloud.
ABC, which televised the walk, insisted on it. Mr Wallenda said he only
agreed because he was not willing to lose the chance and needed ABC's
sponsorship to help offset some of the $1.3million cost of the
Conditions were good leading up to the nationally televised stunt
scheduled for Friday night. When he left terra firma about 10.15pm, the
temperature was in the low 60s with winds under 10mph from the east,
roughly at his back.
'I think it's a crazy idea,' said Maurice Wang, 59, he drove from
Toronto to watch the walk from the Canadian shore. 'Someone has to be
really committed. You can't just say, "Oh, I want to try it." He's got
my respect for that.'
On the U.S. side of the falls, cars lined the road into Goat Island as
people jockeyed for good spots to watch Mr Wallenda's 1,800-foot walk on
a two-inch wire through the mist rising from the falls.
For the 33-year-old father of three, the Niagara Falls walk was unlike
anything he has ever done.
Because it was over water, the two-inch wire did not have the usual
stabiliser cables to keep it from swinging. Pendulum anchors were
designed to keep it from twisting under the elkskin-soled shoes designed
by his mother.
The Wallendas trace their roots to 1780 Austria-Hungary, when ancestors
traveled as a band of acrobats, aerialists, jugglers, animal trainers
and trapeze artists.
In 1928, the family gave its inaugural performance at Madison Square
Garden and earned a 15-minute standing ovation from an astounded
audience, who marveled at them performing without a safety net.
And the clan has been touched by tragedy, notably in 1978 when patriarch
Karl Wallenda, Nik's great-grandfather, fell to his death during a stunt
in Puerto Rico.
About a dozen other tightrope artists have crossed the Niagara Gorge
downstream, dating to Jean Francois Gravelet, aka The Great Blondin, in
1859. But no one has walked directly over the falls and authorities have
not allowed any tightrope acts in the area since 1896.
It took Mr Wallenda two years to persuade U.S. and Canadian authorities
to allow it and many civic leaders hoped to use the publicity to
jumpstart the region's struggling economy, particularly on the U.S. side
of the falls.