Daredevil Nik Wallenda became the first person to walk on a tightrope across the Niagara Falls, taking steady, measured steps on Friday night for 1,800 feet across the mist-fogged brink of the roaring falls.
Though tethered to the wire to prevent falling to nearly certain death, he still contended with wind, water and an unfamiliar wire as he walked all the way from the U.S. to Canada.
The daring acrobat set off around 10.15 to whoops and cheers from the huge crowd at the atmospheric event, and arrived on the other side of the Falls within half an hour.
Afterwards, he said he accomplished the feat through ‘a lot of praying, that’s for sure. But, you know, it’s all about the concentration, the focus, and the training.’
The seventh-generation member of the famed Flying Wallendas had long dreamed of pulling off the stunt, never before attempted. Other daredevils have wire-walked over the Niagara River but farther downstream and not since 1896.
‘This is what dreams are made of, people,’ Mr Wallenda said shortly after he began walking the wire.
He took steady, measured steps amid the rushing mist over the falls as 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.
After he made it to the Canadian side of the falls, Mr Wallenda said that at one point in the middle of the stunt, he thought about his great-grandfather and the walks he had taken: ‘That’s what this is all about, paying tribute to my ancestors, and my hero, Karl Wallenda.’
A C-shaped clamp trailed behind him on the walk, designed to allow free passage over the pendulum anchors. If he had slipped, he would dangle by his waist about eight feet below the wire to wait for rescue.
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 spectacle.
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.