In San Juan, Puerto Rico, footage of Karl Wallenda’s terrible last tightrope walk was captured.
Since he was six years old, Karl Wallenda has been doing stunts. He received training in tightrope cycling, high wire walking, and balancing as one of seven men in a pyramid. A safety net was infrequently employed. It seems that nothing was insurmountable for him.
The entire world then watched in horror as Karl Wallenda died on March 22, 1978. The 73-year-old Wallenda lost his balance while attempting to cross a high wire suspended between the two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He teetered on the wire for 30 breath-taking seconds before falling ten storeys.
If not for his reputation as a daredevil and the fact that it was shown live on television, Karl Wallenda’s passing might not have received as much attention.
The Balancing Act of The Flying Wallendas
Wallenda was trained in stunts since he was a small child. He was born in Germany in 1905 to a circus family. He trained with another performer while still in his teen years, and by 1922, he had started The Flying Wallendas.
In order to create the touring balancing act, he recruited his brother Herman, his school friend Joseph Geiger, and his fiancée Helen Kreiss (who later became his wife) all of whom had circus training.
The troupe, also known as The Great Wallendas, spent several years touring Europe while honing their four-man pyramid act, tightrope walking, and high-wire cycling.
John Ringling, a circus owner from the United States, eventually caught their attention and recruited the Wallendas to perform at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus right away. They made their debut in 1928 to a standing ovation at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The remarkable acts performed by The Flying Wallendas, virtually entirely created by Karl Wallenda, quickly brought them international acclaim. The three-tier, seven-person chair pyramid, in which the group walks the tightrope with the top member balancing high in the air — frequently on a chair — was one of the most life-threatening acts he devised.
Over the years, Karl had been married and had a number of children, all of whom, along with their various significant others and their own offspring, joined the family company.
Daredevil Stunts Gone Fatal
As amazing as the Wallendas’ performances were, they were also risky.
When the leader of their famed seven-person pyramid toppled during a performance at the Shrine Circus in Detroit in 1962, chaos ensued.
Wallenda’s nephew, tightrope partner, and son-in-law were all killed in the fall. Mario Wallenda, the Wallenda family’s son, suffered a head injury after bouncing out of the safety net and was left paralyzed from the waist down.
A year later, Wallenda’s sister-in-law died after falling from a tightrope during a performance. A few years later, Wallenda’s son-in-law was fatally electrocuted after holding a live wire by accident while doing a trick.
Wallenda persevered in spite of all the tragedies connected to his performance, continuing to perform alone or in smaller ensembles.
Wallenda created history on many occasions, breaking a high-wire walking record by traversing 1,800 feet across Kings Island and completing a high-wire walk across the Tallulah Gorge.
He continued to execute stunts into his 70s, approaching each task with the same sense of adventure he had always had.
Karl Wallenda’s Last, Fatal Walk
When Wallenda traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1978, he was still actively working after a more than 50-year career. He was there to publicize the circus show that he and his granddaughter would be performing.
A local film team that had come out to see the spectacle and caught Wallenda’s final stunt on live television. He can be seen losing his footing around halfway across the wire before falling. He crashed into a waiting taxi and was later declared dead.
The cause of Wallenda’s unfortunate death was ultimately determined to be a mix of strong winds and the fact that the line was not properly secured.
Wallenda passed away a long time ago, but his great-grandson Nik Wallenda continues his legacy. Following in the footsteps of his great-grandfather, Nik continues to perform with his siblings in an effort to preserve the heritage that Karl Wallenda worked so hard to establish.
In actuality, Nik has since surpassed his illustrious relative. He holds 11 Guinness World Records, including the highest tightrope walk while blindfolded and the longest and highest bicycle ride (at 250 feet long and 135 feet high).
Karl’s granddaughter Delilah and Nik reenacted the fatal stroll that caused Karl’s passing 33 years earlier in 2011. The two people balanced on a thin wire between the two towers of Puerto Rico’s 10-story Condado Plaza Hotel.
To be able to follow in his precise footsteps is a tremendous honor, and I did this for him as much as I did for my family to find some closure, said Nik, who insisted that he wasn’t afraid throughout the performance.
His great-grandfather would undoubtedly be pleased.