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

Mali's Female Basketball Players Rebound After Islamist Occupation

Islamist extremists ruled northern Mali for most of 2012, imposing strict Sharia law, and now some 18 months later, the region is slowly getting back on its feet More

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

Many Chinese-made products go unsold, for now, with numerous Vietnamese consumers still angry over recent dispute More

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid