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.
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

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs