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A Brief History Of Funambulism At Niagara Falls

kevint3141/flickr

In honor of Nik Wallenda‘s high-wire walk tomorrow night, here’s a brief history of some of those who strolled the tightrope before him.

The first person to cross Niagara on a tightrope made his journeys [several] during the summers of 1859 and 1860. French funambulist [a fancy word for tighhtrope walker] The Great Blondin soon discovered that the feat of walking the rope looked too easy for the spectators below. To make it more interesting, Blondin crossed:

-blindfolded

-on stilts

-carrying his manager on his back [among other innovations]!

Blondin spent the rest of his long tightrope career playing off his successes at the Falls, performing his final routine at the age of 71, a year before he died from diabetes, in his English estate, named, of course, Niagara.

William Leonard Hunt, from Lockport, watched Blondin’s 1859 performances closely. The following two years, he matched Blondin stunt-for-stunt [except for carrying a man on his back]. Under the name Signor Farini, he chartered trains to bring viewers from across North America [splitting ticket fees with the railroads, which made him comfortably well off].

Among the several others who strolled at Niagara were English stunter Henry Bellini and Maria Spelterini [illustration on home page; Spelterini was the only woman to cross the Falls. And yes, those are peach baskets on her feet].

The practice of crossing the Falls by air died out by the biginning of the 20th century. It had been done too many times. Nobody was interested any more.

Which brings us, of course, to Mr. Wallenda and tomorrow night’s attempt. Will he succeed? Only time will tell…

[Challenging The Thunder]

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