The Flying Wallendas is the name of a circus act and daredevil stunt performers, most known for performing highwire acts without a safety net. They were first known as The Great Wallendas, but the current name was coined by the press in the 40s and has stayed since. Karl Wallenda was born in Magdeburg, Germany in 1905 to an old circus family, and began performing at the age of 6. While still in his teens he answered an ad for a hand balancer with courage. His employer, Louis Weitzman, taught him the trade. In 1922, Karl put together his own act with his brother Herman, Joseph Geiger, and a teenage girl, Helen Kreis, who eventually became his wife.
The act toured Europe for several years, performing some amazing stunts. When John Ringling saw them perform in Cuba, he quickly hired them to perform at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. In 1928, they debuted at the Madison Square Garden. The act performed without a net (it had been lost in transit) and the crowd gave them a standing ovation.
It was at a performance in Akron, Ohio that the group all fell off the wire, but were unhurt. The next day, a reporter who witnessed the accident was quoted in the newspaper: “The Wallendas fell so gracefully that it seemed as if they were flying” — thus coining the name “The Flying Wallendas”.
In the following years, Karl developed some of the most amazing acts like the seven-person chair pyramid. They continued performing those acts until 1962. That year, while performing at the Shrine Circus at Detroit’s State Fair Coliseum, the front man on the wire faltered and the pyramid collapsed. Three men fell to the ground, killing Richard Faughnan, Wallenda’s son-in-law, and nephew Dieter Schepp. Karl injured his pelvis, and his adopted son, Mario, was paralyzed from the waist down.
Other tragedies include when Wallenda’s sister-in-law, Rietta, fell to her death in 1963, and his son-in-law Richard (“Chico”) Guzman was killed in 1972 after touching a live electric wire while holding part of the metal rigging. Nonetheless, Karl decided to go on. He repeated the pyramid act in 1963 and 1977. Karl continued performing with a smaller group, and doing solo acts.
On March 22, 1978, during a promotional walk in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Karl Wallenda fell from the wire and died. He was 73. Nik Wallenda completed the walk on June 4, 2011 with his mother, Delilah. (Wikipedia)
WHAT STRUCK ME FROM THIS ARTICLE: In thinking about a THEOLOGY OF RISK, I was struck by the sentence “The act performed without a net (it had been lost in transit) and the crowd gave them a standing ovation.” Walking on a high wire without a net might be praiseworthy to some, but I find it to be not only tempting fate, but tempting God!
Philippe Petit (French pronunciation: [filip pəti]; born 13 August 1949) is a French high-wire artist who gained fame for his high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, New York, on 7 August 1974. For his feat (that he referred to as “le coup”), he used a 450-pound (200-kilogram) cable and a custom-made 26-foot (8-metre) long, 55-pound (25-kilogram) balancing pole.
The movie “Man on a Wire” chronicles Petit’s 1974 walk between the Twin Towers. The reenactment is quite fascinating, but there is a bedroom scene of Petit’s sexual encounter with, I believe, a total stranger after the event, to celebrate his success. [I would have dropped to my knees, thanking God for not letting me fall to my death].
Here is a 4 1/2 minute talk by Petit on his career as a high-wire artist.
What struck me particularly was his statement: “IF YOU ARE NOT LIVING ON THE EDGE, YOU ARE TAKING UP TOO MUCH SPACE!” (to be continued)
1. If you could talk to Petit about the gospel, what would you say to him?
2. How can you and I know if we are “taking up too much space”?