Circus performer Nik Wallenda already holds one world record — for his 2008 high-wire bicycle ride on a wire extended from the roof of the Prudential Building in Newark, N.J. — but now he wants to try something no one else has accomplished in more than 100 years: a tightrope walk from one side of Niagara Falls to the other. The 1,800-foot journey across the crashing waters would take him from the United States to Canada, assuming that officials from each nation allow him to do it.
Wallenda told the New York Times that "This is a dream of mine that I've always wanted to do. I get chills thinking about it." Wallenda is a seventh-generation circus performer, part of the famed Great Wallendas family.
High-wire acts and other "stunters" used to go over or across the falls all the time, but the Niagara Parks Commission put a stop to that when it was formed, preferring to have visitors admire the natural beauty of the falls rather than people risking their lives. "Our vision is to have people come and be inspired by the falls, by the beauty of the natural environment," Parks Commission interim Chairwoman Janice Thomson told the Times.
But the parks commission only represents the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, where business is booming. On the American side, where tourists rarely tread, Wallenda's idea is greeted positively. "From a destination marketer's standpoint, we want this to happen, because it just garners worldwide attention," Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation President John Percy told the paper.
According to the Niagara Gazette, both houses of New York State's legislature have endorsed a bill that would allow Wallenda to make his high-wire journey, although it has not yet been signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Wallenda has also met with Canadian officials, who have not made a ruling on his request. Bullet News Niagara, which represents the Canadian side, reported that parks commission officials were "unmoved" by Wallenda's proposal.
Even though "stunting" has been forbidden at Niagara Falls for more than a century, people have never stopped trying to go over the falls, more often than not dying in the process. One of the most notorious recent attempts was Robert Overcracker, who rode a jet ski over Horseshoe Falls on Oct. 1, 1995. His body was never recovered.
People also frequently try to commit suicide at the falls, most recently a Canadian woman who died in May of this year.
In his sadly out-of-print book, "Journeys to the Brink of Doom," Niagara Falls native T.W. Kriner wrote that, while beautiful, the falls are a harsh mistress: "Dying at Niagara is no more beautiful than plunging over a cliff in a car. Decapitation, dismemberment, and disembowelment are the common results of a trip over the Falls."
Wallenda is currently starring in a new Discovery Channel TV show, "Life on a Wire." He talked with the "Today" show about his Niagara Falls plans here: