Thursday, June 14, 2012

Walking the Tightrope

(Mike DiBattista/Niagara Falls Review)

This is the man that will be tempting fate Friday night

This man is Nik Wallenda.
He will be walking a 1,800 foot long tightrope across the Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Starting the walk at 10:20 pm in Niagara Falls New York, Nik plans on holding a news conference on the Canadian side at 11 pm.

For more details on Wallenda's walk read the National Post article

Others who have walked the tightrope


The spectators viewing Niagara Falls on Oct. 7, 1829, could scarcely believe what they were seeing.

Out in front of Goat Island, which separates the American and Canadian Falls, was a small, specially built platform some 29 metres above the Niagara River. On that platform was a young man who was about to jump into the swirling water below.

That man was Sam Patch, 22, from Rhode Island, who had already gained some fame performing death-defying jumps in New Jersey. Now he was about to try his luck with Niagara’s unpredictable waters. As his audience watched, Sam propelled himself out from his platform and seconds later, dropped into the river.

In what seemed like only the blink of an eye, he was out of the water and walking along the riverbank — singing. Ten days later, he made another successful jump into the Niagara River, this time from an even higher platform. As an eyewitness wrote, Sam had “immortalized himself” and in the process had become Niagara’s first stunter.


Of all the tightrope artists who crossed the Niagara River Gorge, the first and most famous is Jean Francois Gravelet, who used the stage name Blondin. A highly skilled, innovative performer, he first gained fame in Europe before coming to North America. During the summer of 1859 and again in 1860, Blondin put on a series of amazing performances here.

Some of his stunts included carrying a man across on his back, lying on the rope, crossing blindfolded, standing on his head, hanging from the rope by his hands and then his feet, turning somersaults and making a nighttime trip using Roman candles on the end of his balancing pole to light the way. On one occasion he carried out a 22.5-kilogram stove, stopped at the centre of the rope and cooked several omelletes.


Billed as “The Great Australian Blondin” (a reference to Niagara’s first tightrope artist), Bellini presented a series of shows here during August 1873. His rope, 1,500 feet long, was stretched across the river slightly downstream from the American Falls. Bellini’s most original stunt, which resembled a modern-day bungee jump, involved the use of a long rubber cord. He tied one end of the cord to the centre of his rope and the other end to a short handlebar that he grasped before jumping off the rope. While still swift, his drop was slowed somewhat by the cord. A few seconds before he hit the surface of the water, he let go of the handlebar. The cord then snapped upwards. After a short time in the water, his assistants picked up Bellini in a rowboat


Niagara’s only feminine tightrope artist was Maria Spelterini who, during the summer of 1876, presented a number of thrilling shows over the Niagara River Gorge. The local press described Maria, 23, as “gifted with wonderful nerve combined with cool daring,” traits that were very evident during her shows here. Her performances included crossing with her arms and legs shackled in chains, walking backwards from the Canadian to the American side without turning around and making the heart-stopping trip with a paper bag over her head. During one show she skipped across the 300-metre-long rope, which was stretched across the Niagara Gorge close to where the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge is now. In one of her more famous routines, Maria, who always wore a colourful, showy costume, crossed with peach baskets on her feet.


Although he made his living as a Toronto photographer, Samuel Dixon was also a skilled tightrope artist. He performed at Niagara on Sept. 6, 1890 and again on July 17, 1891. On both occasions, what he called his “wire rope” spanned the Niagara River Gorge close to the foot of Bridge Street.

Dubbed “Daring Dixon” by the press, his performances included kneeling on the wire, twirling a hoop on his foot and lying down on the wire when he reached the centre of the river. During a break in the 1891 show, his weeping wife, determined that her husband should not go out on the wire again, hid his balancing pole. Dixon found it, however, and finished his performance. Financial proceeds from the shows, mainly dependent upon passing the hat, were very small. Discouraged, Daring Dixon never performed at Niagara Falls again.


Calverly was a remarkable tightrope artist who performed a number of heart-stopping stunts during his Niagara shows in 1892 and 1893. On one of his crossings, he took a chair out with him, balanced it on the rope and sat down. He then read a newspaper and lit a cigarette. Suddenly, he jumped off the chair and, as he fell, caught the rope with his toes.

During his July 1, 1893 show, he used his balancing pole as a skipping rope. Later, he pushed a small stove out to the centre of his rope and then cooked some eggs. On July 4, 1893, he established a speed record, making the crossing in two minutes, 32 seconds.

By Sherman Zavitz, Niagara Falls Review

photos from the Niagara Falls Public Library

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