Niagra Falls, NY (written by Tom Tobin/Rochester Democrat & Chronicle) -- Anyone who has stood next to the wild, crashing waters of Niagara Falls knows the feeling.
Even from a safe perch, the unstoppable power of the waters pouring into the mists below is overwhelming. It makes one grip the railing a bit tighter.
Imagine, then, walking out over that roiling natural wonder on a cable about the width of a child's clenched fist.
Imagine walking 1,800 feet over the Horseshoe Falls from the American side to the Canadian side in a single tightrope act, with tens of thousands watching nearby and millions more on network television.
Imagine doing it at night.
That's what Nik Wallenda, a seventh-generation member of the famous Flying Wallendas circus act, will attempt Friday.
Starting around 10:30 p.m., he is to walk on a 2-inch steel cable across the falls.
Though wire-walking at the falls has a long history, the Wallenda walk -- 200 feet above the water -- will be the first across the brink of the falls rather than farther down in the gorge.
Wallenda -- unhappily, judging by his public remarks on the topic -- will be tethered to the wire to prevent a plunge that likely would be fatal. ABC-TV, which is carrying the event live during a three-hour broadcast, agreed to sponsor the event, estimated to cost $1.3 million, only if Wallenda was protected against catastrophe.
Wallenda needs the TV money, though he has said it doesn't cover his costs. In an online campaign, he has raised about $15,000 of a $50,000 goal.
The event has been in the works for two years, and much of that time has been spent persuading Canadian and U.S. authorities to suspend a longstanding rule against stunts at the falls.
But the extended planning time has given Niagara Falls -- the more raucous, casino-focused Ontario province community and the more sedate and poverty-stricken U.S. city -- time to organize walk-related events.
Though only 4,000 tickets were given away online for a prime viewing spot at Terrapin Point at the falls, as many as 120,000 to 150,000 people are expected to flow into the parks, restaurants, hotels and other venues Friday to view the event.
Large TV screens will be set up around the area for people with less-than-stellar vantage points. There will be live music before the event and fireworks afterward on the American side.
Hotels and restaurants on the Canadian side have been booking rooms and viewing sites. There will be viewing from Queen Victoria Park and the Fallsview area. "I'd recommend people get over here early Friday, as I expect they will start closing down the parkway around 4 p.m., as they do on New Year's Eve," Chad Curtis, who works on the Canadian side, said Tuesday.
The Flying Wallendas are perhaps history's best and best-known wire or tightrope walkers. They can be traced to 18th-century Europe, when the Wallendas were among troupes of circus-type performers.
The family endured tragedy in 1962, when a fall from the high wire at a Detroit performance killed two of its members. The family patriarch and Nik's great-grandfather, Karl, died when he fell off a wire during a 1978 walk in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Two years earlier, Karl had walked a tightrope across the old Silver Stadium in Rochester, N.Y., during a Red Wings game.
In coming to Niagara Falls, the Wallendas put their stamp on a place known for daredevil stunts, from barrels over the brink to wire walks.
The first in the latter category was the tightrope walk of the Great Blon-din in 1859. There were others, of varying success, until falls authorities in 1896 banned such acts.
Wallenda's attempt will be the first time in 116 years someone has tried this method of getting to the Canadian side.