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

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs