Niagara Gazette — Daring aerialist Nik Wallenda stepped off a high wire suspended above Niagara Falls and stepped into the history books on Friday.
Wallenda made his way across the 1,800-foot wire in less than 26 minutes and became the first person to cross the gorge on a tightrope over the Horseshoe Falls.
For effect, he sprinted the final steps to the end of the line where he was welcomed by members of his family and crew and hundreds of awe-struck spectators who witnessed a death-defying performance.
"It's all about the concentration and the focus. It all goes back to the training," an elated Wallenda told reporters during a press conference in Canada shortly after he arrived - passport in hand - on the other side of the border.
Wallenda also credited his faith in a higher power for helping him make it through safely and without so much as a slip.
He told the Associated Press he made it through "a lot of praying, that's for sure."
As Wallenda stepped up onto the wire suspended above Terrapin Point to begin his journey at 10:15 p.m., cheers and whistles exploded from crowds on both sides of the border. A few minutes later a Wall-en-da chant started. During the first few steps people in the crowd shouted "oh my god" and "I can't look."
But then a calm came over the crowd as people witnessed Wallenda chart his steady course on the wire. He slowly, methodically went step by step, dragging the tether he was forced to wear by his sponsors behind him like a tired old dog.
Susan Jacobbi of Buffalo was happy that she was able to watch history unfold from her spot on Terrapin Point. She said she felt nervous when Wallenda first stepped out onto the wire but said her tension slowly eased with his every step.
"He seems very calm at what he's doing," Jacobbi said during the walk. "I think he's nervous but he's making it look really easy."
Jacobbi winced as he neared the center of the rope and said that it seemed as though the wind and mist were becoming more severe.
"I'm so excited to be a part of this," she uttered.
Another Terrapin Point spectator, Niagara Falls resident Mark Tantillo, said he feared the crowds would be a distraction for Wallenda.
"I give the guy a lot of credit," Tantillo said. "It's probably very nerve racking with all these people."
Wallenda exhibited nerves of steel, choosing to jog the last leg of the journey into Niagara Falls, Ont. where he was greeted by a Canadian Customs officer who asked him for his passport, which he presented.
As Wallenda stepped off the wire and onto a scissor lift on the Canadian side cheers and hollers, spectators on both sides cheered loudly. Thousands of camera flashes sparkled on the ridge of the gorge.
Angela Janiszewski, who had gripped her friend's hand tightly throughout the walk, was relieved when he stepped off the wire.
"I wanted to come down here and see him take off his harness halfway through, but when I saw it I kind of hoped that he wouldn't," said Janiszewski, who also watched the walk from Terrapin Point.
The Niagara Falls resident said she was happy that Wallenda made it across safely and admires him for not attempting to shed his harness.
She said she thought the most astonishing part was the length of the walk itself.
"Looking at it you just don't realize how large the distance is," Janiszewski said.
New York State Parks spokesperson Angela Berti was thrilled with the way that the event turned out.
"It was like watching a movie," Berti said. "What a way to highlight Niagara Falls."
Lillie Hall, mother of Green Bay Packers star and Niagara Falls native James Starks, likened the event to watching her son win the Super Bowl two years ago.
"It's a feeling that you can never, ever imagine, so I can definitely relate to what [Wallenda] is feeling right now and what his family must be going through," Hall said.
Hall was excited to see so many families out enjoying Niagara Falls on a summer night.
"I was really glad to be able to bring out my children and my grandchildren to see this," Hall said. "This was really awesome."
An estimated crowd of 125,000 people on the Canadian side and 4,000 on the American side watched.
ABC televised the walk and insisted Wallenda use a tether to keep him from falling in the river. Wallenda said he agreed because he wasn't willing to lose the chance and needed ABC's sponsorship to help offset some of the $1.3 million cost of the spectacle.
For the 33-year-old father of three, the Niagara Falls walk was unlike anything he'd ever done. Because it was over water, the 2-inch wire didn't have the usual stabilizer cables to keep it from swinging. Pendulum anchors were designed to keep it from twisting under the elkskin-soled shoes designed by his mother.
The Wallendas trace their roots to 1780 Austria-Hungary, when ancestors traveled as a band of acrobats, aerialists, jugglers, animal trainers and trapeze artists. The clan has been touched by tragedy, notably in 1978 when patriarch Karl Wallenda, Nik's great-grandfather, fell to his death during a stunt in Puerto Rico.
After he made it to the Canadian side of the falls, Wallenda said that at one point in the middle of the stunt, he thought about his great-grandfather and the walks he had taken: "That's what this is all about, paying tribute to my ancestors, and my hero, Karl Wallenda."
It took Wallenda two years to persuade U.S. and Canadian authorities to allow it, and many civic leaders hoped to use the publicity to jumpstart the region's struggling economy, particularly on the U.S. side of the falls.
Key supporters, including state Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, and state Assemblyman John Ceretto, R-Lewiston, hailed Friday's event as a success, both for Wallenda and the community as a whole.
“Tonight’s walk has brought world-wide attention to our city, its parks and attractions," Ceretto said. "Niagara Falls is back; front and center in the tourism world, where we belong.”
The excitement surrounding the event wasn't confined to state parks on both sides of the border. Fans watching from Old Falls Street. Many were giddy with joy as he stepped off the line. Others weren't quite as thrilled.
LaToya and Latrell King, who watched from Old Falls Street, expressed disappointment with the fact the guy was tethered by a cable actually cheapened the experience.
"I think it would have been more exciting without that string on his back," LaToya said.
"It was like he cheated," Latrell added.
Other spectators were impressed - tether and all.
"The whole thing was wonderful," John Passfield, a visitor from Cayuga, Ont., said. "Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves."
Passfield and his wife, Trudy, spent the evening on the festive street with hundreds of curious onlookers. They felt the attitudes shown by their fellow spectators made the viewing experience much better than it could have been.
"Everyone was so civilized," Trudy Passfield said. "They sat down in front of us so everyone was able to see. And the weather was wonderful."