Carla Wallenda, Karl Wallenda, Raymond Chitty, and Richard Guzman (Carla’s husband). Ca. 1965
Great grandfather Karl Willenda was born in Germany in 1905 to an old circus family and began performing at the age of 6. He answered an ad in the newspaper while in his teens for a hand balancer with courage. Through the years Karl would show the world just how courageous he was. His employer taught him the trade so well that in1922, Karl put together his own act with the help of his brother Herman, Joseph Geiger, and Helen Kreis, a teenager who would eventually become his wife. The act proved very successful as it toured Europe doing amazing stunts! In 1928 John Ringling saw them perform in Cuba and was so impressed that he hired them to be part of his Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. The act had it’s start in Madison Square Garden. The safety net that they used had been lost in transit, so they performed without one. The crowd gave them a standing ovation for their death defying show. In Akron Ohio the group all fell off of the wire, but nobody got hurt. It seemed to the onlookers that the Willenda’s fell so gracefully that they were given a nickname that would stick “The Flying Willendas”.
In the years to follow Karl developed some extraordinary acts such as the seven person chair pyramid in 1947. Through the years they continued to entertain the world with their daring feats. In 1962 tragedy struck. While attempting the pyramid stunt at the Shrine Circus in Detroit, the front man on the wire lost his balance and the pyramid collapsed. Three men fell to the ground. Killed were Richard Faughnan, Wallenda’s son in law; and his nephew Dieter schepp. Karl injured his pelvis, and his adopted son Mario was paralyzed from the waist down.
In spite of these setbacks Karl went on. He continued performing with a smaller group, and doing acts alone. He repeated the pyramid act in 1963 and 1977. In 1970 Wallenda crossed the Tallulah Gorge in Georgia on a high wire. On March 22, 1978 Karl Wallenda fell to his death. He was attempting to walk between the towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel, 10 stories up. He was 73. Karl has several branches of grandchildren still performing regularly today. They have achieved recognition in the Guiness Book of Records.
Nik Wallenda completed the walk that Karl didn’t on June 4, 2011, with his mother, in honor of Karl. Last year Nik was the first aerialist to walk directly over Niagara Falls, from the United States to Canada. He crossed the river’s widest point wearing a safety harness as was required by ABC television.
Last Sunday Nik Wallenda attempted to become the first aerialist to walk directly over the Little Colarado River Gorge. The event was broadcast live on the Discovery Channel. A 2 inch thick wire was suspended 1500 feet above the river. Nik would be attempting the walk without a harness or safety net. The distance was figured to be 1,400 feet between the cliffs.
Nik Wallenda walking over Niagara Falls
When I heard about the event that very day I had no intention of watching. I thought if someone was going to be stupid why should I get involved? My wife was watching as I went into the computer room to get away. After a few minutes she called out “you really should come and see this.” Reluctantly I came in and the sight and sounds were surprising. They had hooked up a microphone to Nik and as he was walking step by little step he was in a deep conversation with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Each step of the way he was offering praise and worship. It was like listening in to someone’s deep personal communication with God and it was beautiful! If you closed your eyes you would have never realized the danger he was in. He was also in contact with his earthly father who was talking to him through an earpiece encouraging him with every step and warning him of dangers ahead.
Nik Wallenda looks over the 2 inch wire cable he would be risking his life on
Later I watched a replay of the show that led up to the event. They were showing all of the preparation that went into the engineering that made the walk possible. It involved drilling into rocks and running that cable through them. It involved getting the right weight and thickness for the chord. It involved stretching that chord over the 1,400 feet and making sure it was tight and secure. The process was facinating because it set the stage for the main event. Without everything perfectly set up there was no chance that Nik could get across.
So there Nik was on one knee asking God to calm the wind. He stayed down for just a little while and suddenly he was back up. He tried to be patient waiting for the tenseness in the line to return. Carrying a balancing rod he kept putting one foot in front of the other in a perfectly straight line as he praised his God! The camera sometimes shifted to his feet and I could see the precision of his steps. Each step was a feel for the rope and then the foot securely finding it.
Of course most of us watching ask ourselves why? Why would someone risk everything in a stunt as millions watched. It didn’t take long as I first saw and heard him up there to possibly understand. What a testimony he portrayed to millions! When does someone get a chance to witness to millions at a time? Psalms 23 states that “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me”. There was no doubt that Wallenda felt comfort in God’s hands in the midst of the danger!
As I was thinking about Wallenda’s walk on the 2 inch wire I was reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 7 verses 13 and 14. “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the road and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”. In the end aren’t we all in a spiritual sense walking Wallenda’s walk in life? Aren’t we all on a spiritual tight rope with Jesus representing the bridge between us and the Father and all other ways ending in destruction? The good news is that the bridge is engineered perfectly sound for us to cross over without fear!
They showed a long range view and Wallenda was three quarters of the way across. I could see his little figure with the background of rocks behind him, slowly advancing. He had taken another knee a ways back and now he was steadily proceeding! One step in front of the other he was almost home. When he got within twenty feet of the end he took four fast hops. The quick change of pace startled me but here he was safely on the other side greeted by his awaiting family! Maybe that is how life ends for Christians. Maybe after the toils of life’s burdens we suddenly run to our God and awaiting loved ones as the victorious journey ends! The first thing that Nik did was walk over and kiss the solid ground he
was now standing on. Spiritually he was on solid ground all of the time!