News / USA

Niagara Falls Approves Stunt to Attract Tourists

Circus performer Nik Wallenda to walk across waterfall on five-centimeter thick wire

Nik Wallenda, on a wire three meters above a mostly empty parking lot, practices for his walk across Niagara Falls. (D. Robison/VOA)
Nik Wallenda, on a wire three meters above a mostly empty parking lot, practices for his walk across Niagara Falls. (D. Robison/VOA)
NIAGARA FALLS, NEW YORK - Each year, more than eight million people visit Niagara Falls, the famous waterfall along the U.S.-Canada border known as the “Honeymoon Capital of the World.”

The famous natural attraction is also a magnet for daredevils and local officials hope the latest planned stunt will give the economy a much-needed boost.

High-wire act

Dozens of people have plunged over the cataract in barrels or walked on tightropes stretched across the river gorge below Niagara Falls. But for more than a century, strict laws discouraged such stunts. However, they'll be back in the spotlight on Friday, when seventh-generation circus performer Nik Wallenda attempts to walk high above the waterfall on a five-centimeter thick wire.  

City officials in Niagara Falls, New York, are allowing the stunt in a bid to lure foreign tourists to their side of the falls, to help revive the city’s depressed economy.

Signs of the economic downturn are evident at the Haunted House of Wax in Niagara Falls, New York, where tourists are greeted by two signs, one that beckons visitors to meet ghoulish wax figurines and another advertising the building for sale. It's a common sight in a downtown that is also dotted with empty lots and cheap gift shops.
This file photo shows the American side of the falls as seen from Niagara Falls, Ontario.This file photo shows the American side of the falls as seen from Niagara Falls, Ontario.
x
This file photo shows the American side of the falls as seen from Niagara Falls, Ontario.
This file photo shows the American side of the falls as seen from Niagara Falls, Ontario.


Glory days

People like Paul Gromosiak, who has lived here for 70 years, remember the glory days.

He keeps a homemade model of Niagara Falls on his kitchen table.  Cotton balls represent the waterfall’s famous mist.  Little flags on toothpicks mark stunts from the past 200 years.  He's already added one for circus performer Nik Wallenda.  

Gromosiak wrote a book about the death defying stunts at Niagara, including the first man to cross the river on a tightrope in 1859, and the first barrel-ride over the falls - by a woman and her cat - in 1901.  Large crowds have always flocked to watch daredevils try to conquer the falls. Gromosiak says the city was most alive during these times, but that changed when he was nine.

According to a radio report of the event, 200,000 people watched Red Hill ride his intertube barrel over the falls in 1951.

“Red Hill, Junior, went over the Horseshoe Falls with a piece of the Blarney Stone, a baby doll, rabbit’s foot for luck," Gromosiak says. “It fell apart and so did he.”

Stunts were outlawed after Hill's death. While many daredevils asked for waivers, none were granted, until last year.

Daredevils return

Niagara Falls officials say they were swayed by Nik Wallenda’s promise to re-create that daredevil atmosphere, but do it safely.  His family, the famous “Flying Wallendas” have performed high wire stunts for nearly 200 years.

The stunt  is already attracting attention. Hundreds of spectators watch Wallenda practice on a wire three meters above a mostly empty parking lot.

"It is something I am never going to see again in my lifetime," says local resident Paul Mroziak, who hasn't seen a crowd this big in a long time. "I would think that it would help tourism, cannot hurt it, that is for sure."

Sparking a comeback

Since the 1960s, the population of Niagara Falls, New York, has fallen by half.  After practice, Wallenda tells the crowd his wirewalk will start the city’s comeback.

“How cool would it be if we could say that the economy in Niagara Falls, New York, changed after Nik Wallenda walked from one country to another?” he says.

He signs autographs and tells the group to support local businesses.  

Maggie Daniels, a tourism professor at George Mason University, says one event can only go so far.

“Honestly, the next thing is going to come up. There are things like this happening all over the globe all the time," she says. "I do think it is kind of a unique, interesting thing to do.  But the week after, people are going to be saying, ‘What other crazy thing is going on in the world?’”

Still, local tourism board president John Percy believes Wallenda's walk is the city’s best shot at turning around its sagging fortunes. Tens of thousands of spectators are expected to attend. The stunt will air live on television around the world. Percy expects ripples to be felt for years.

“That alone, that value of that publicity is worth its weight in platinum, not even gold," he says. "It is worth millions and millions to this destination. Any destination would give their right arm for that kind of publicity."

Percy adds that Nik Wallenda’s biggest impact may be the door he has opened for other daredevils to challenge the falls.  Requests have already started pouring in.  Officials have pledged they will not allow any more stunts for 20 years, but they have been persuaded to change their minds before.

You May Like

Hostage Crisis Could Divide Japan Over Plans to Boost Military

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday the government is working closely with the Jordanian government to secure the release of remaining Japanese hostage Kenji Goto More

Video Brussels Shaken as New Greek Leader Challenges Europe’s Austerity Drive

Country's youngest ever PM Alexis Tsipras, 40, sworn in Monday and says he will restore dignity to Greece by ending spending cuts More

Multimedia National Geographic Photo Camps Empower Youth

Annual mentoring program's mission is to give young people a voice to tell their own stories through photography More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid