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A Week Of Niagara Falls Daredevils! [Day 1]

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With Nik Wallenda‘s Niagara Falls tightrope walk on hold, pending Canadian approval [New York signed off on the proposal earlier this Summer], it seems like a good time to look back on some of the many stunters who challenged the Falls and won (it also seems like a good time to remind you that US and Canadian law strictly prohibits stunting in and around Niagara Falls, including the rapids running throughout the Niagara Gorge. Then again, very few locals have attempted a feat of daring at the Falls. Could it be because we’ve seen the cataract from an early age, and developed respect for the powerful waters?).

Hulton Archive, via Getty Images

Since Wallenda is a funambulist [a fancy word for a tightrope walker], we should probably start with the first of that group, in face the first notable stunter at Niagara Falls – The Great Blondin.Jean Francois Gravelet was born in a small French village in 1824. He saw his first tightrope walker at the age of five, and within a year started training to take on that unusual career. By the time he reached Niagara, in the summer of 1859, he was already famous among funambulists. Blondin spent the rest of that summer, and the following one as well, performing a variety of stunts as he crossed over the Falls on his rope. Those stunts included:

- crossing his rope blindfolded

- on stilts

- stopping midway across to cook, and eat an omelet

- pushing a wheel-barrel, and

- carrying his manager on his back!

Blondin made his money by having friends “pass the hat” around the huge crowds that came to watch his performances. After his 1860 stunts, he left Niagara, and toured the world with his tightrope act. His last performance came at the age of 70, a year before he died of natural causes at his estate, just outside London [in tribute to his most successful venue, it was named Niagara].

Tomorrow, the first person to go over the Falls in a barrel [you may be surprised at who that turns out to be]…

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