The Flying Wallendas is the name of a circus act and daredevil stunt performers, most known for performing high wire acts without a safety net. They were first known as The Great Wallendas, but the current name was coined by the press in the 40s and has stayed since.
The most recent Flying Wallenda performer, Nikolas Wallenda as of late has been breaking his families high wire records all over the world. His most recent spectacular stunt was the high wire crossing of Niagara Falls.
His new Science Channel series 'Nik Wallenda beyond Niagara Falls' depicts this modern day dare devil and all he does to prepare for these death defying stunts.
Nik has lost several members of his family-- notably his grandfather-- having been killed or crippled from taking a fall while performing. In his new series he shows how his generation learned from the catastrophes of the past and how they prepare to avoid these devastating falls.
The Wallendas have never used a net in their performances. Nik Wallenda agrees that a net could make one complacent and not at 100%.
Karl Wallenda was born in Magdeburg, Germany, in 1905 to an old circus family, and began performing at the age of 6. While still in his teens he answered an ad for a hand balancer with courage. His employer, Louis Weitzman, taught him the trade. In 1922, Karl put together his own act with his brother Herman, Joseph Geiger, and a teenage girl, Helen Kreis, who eventually became his wife.
The act toured Europe for several years, performing some amazing stunts. When John Ringling saw them perform in Cuba, he quickly hired them to perform at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. In 1928, they debuted at the Madison Square Garden. The act performed without a net (it had been lost in transit) and the crowd gave them a standing ovation.
It was at a performance in Akron, Ohio that the group all fell off the wire, but were unhurt. The next day, a reporter who witnessed the accident was quoted in the newspaper: "The Wallendas fell so gracefully that it seemed as if they were flying" – thus coining the name "The Flying Wallendas".
In 1944, while the Wallendas were performing in Hartford, Connecticut, a fire broke out, killing over 168 people. None of the Wallendas were hurt.
In the following years, Karl developed some of the most amazing acts like the seven-person chair pyramid. They continued performing those acts until 1962, when, while performing at the Shrine Circus at Detroit's State Fair Coliseum, the front man on the wire faltered and the pyramid collapsed. Three men fell to the ground, killing Richard Faughnan, Wallenda's son-in-law; and nephew Dieter Schepp. Karl injured his pelvis, and his adopted son, Mario, was paralyzed from the waist down.
Other tragedies include when Wallenda's sister-in-law, Rietta, fell to her death in 1963, and his son-in-law Richard ("Chico") Guzman was killed in 1972 after touching a live electric wire while holding part of the metal rigging. Nonetheless, Karl decided to go on. He repeated the pyramid act in 1963 and 1977. Karl continued performing with a smaller group, and doing solo acts.
Karl Wallenda crossed the Tallulah Gorge in Georgia on a high wire on July 18, 1970.
On March 22, 1978, during a promotional walk in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Karl Wallenda fell from the wire and died. It was between the towers of Condado Plaza Hotel, 10 stories high. He was 73. Nik Wallenda completed the walk on June 4, 2011 with his mother, Delilah.
There are several branches of the Wallendas performing today, comprising mostly grandchildren of Karl Wallenda. They still perform regularly and have achieved recognition in the Guinness Book of Records.
Nik Wallenda crossed Niagara Falls from the United States into Canada on June 15, 2012, becoming the first person to do so since 1896. Wearing a safety harness as required by ABC television, he crossed at the river's widest point.
Past posts about Nik Wallenda on G.F.C.S.F.N.