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Niagara Falls Daredevils - Funambulists

  “Daredeviling”, in Niagara Falls, started much in the same way as it ended ( stunting is illegal).  The most notable icon”s of the daredevil scene creating tourist attraction and attention were, and still are, funambulists.

What’s a funambulist? Put simply, a funambulist is a tight-rope walker.

 The biggest name in tightrope walking Nick Wallenda, ( who needed special permission from the Niagara Parks )  drew thousands of onlookers as he walked over the Horseshoe Falls from the USA to Canada. He was in fact the first person to actually walk over the Horseshoe Falls as all others crossed the Niagara Gorge near the Falls.  Niagara Falls own homegrown hero Jay Cochrane, made a name for himself and the area by topping every record on the books for tightrope walks in the Niagara area,5tr and donating thousand to local charities. The earliest record we have of tight-rope walking in the Niagara Falls region was set by a man named Jean Francois Gravelot, who was also known by his daredevil moniker, “Blondin.”

The Great Blondin, as he more famously was known, was interested in North America for a few reasons. He did run a circus in the New York area for a bit, but his consuming interest was in tightrope-walking across the Niagara Gorge. He did this first on the 30th of June, 1859, and then did it a bunch of times afterward usually with some fun theatrical trick to make the journey somehow more awe-inspiring, terrifying and stressful to watch.

The walk was eleven hundred feet across and a hundred sixty feet above the water, near the Rainbow Bridge.

Blondin the Great would make several such journeys in his lifetime, once carrying someone on his back, once sitting with a single chair-leg on the wire for some time, and once actually cooking and eating an omelette whilst tightrope walking.

He would be succeeded by William Leonard Hunt, who would take for himself the daredevil name, “Farini the Great.”

Greatness, apparently, is a property which suits anyone who can walk on a tightrope across the Niagara Gorge.

Farini the Great was Blondin the Great’s most ardent competitor, and both men performed what is apparently roughly the same journey several times over the very early 1860s. Farini would do the journey whilst wearing an entire sack, and also while somersaulting several times during the long walk across.

There’s no real word on who won, but if you asked us, we’d probably tell you that the only real winners in this case are the people watching and those who adore the spectacle of people walking across the Niagara Falls gorge on nothing but a thin wire.

Andrew “Professor” Jenkins would be next to brave the Niagara Gorge, but he used a very different method of crossing it than had the two predecessors, who competed so relentlessly with one another.

Jenkins, perhaps sensing some additional flair was needed, invented a contraption that worked like a bicycle but was, in fact, not unlike the same sort of mechanism that gets a ski-lift up a steep mountain. Suspended from a wire, “Professor” Jenkins would pedal the contraption—and himself—across the Niagara Gorge, which he was apparently able to do in about eleven minutes.

Crediting the Great Blondin as his inspiration, “Professor” Jenkins entered his name into the similar roll of men and women who have dared to defy the certain demise failure would have ensued. 

Last but not least on our list of noteworthy funambulists is the one and only women to cross the Niagara Gorge on a tightrope- Maria Spelterini (AKA Spelterina). She did this for the first time on July 8, 1876.  She crossed again on July 12, 1876 wearing peach baskets strapped to her feet, then on July 19 she stunned onlookers by crossing blindfolded. For her final crossing she fearlessly went across with her with her ankles and wrists manacled.

All these daring adventurers, helped shape the burgeoning tourist industry in Niagara Falls, and deserve to be remembered by everyone.