The Flying Wallendas

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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. The name in their native German, "Die fliegenden Wallenda", is a rhyme on the title of the Wagner opera, Der fliegende Holländer ("The Flying Dutchman").

History[edit]

Carla Wallenda, Karl Wallenda, Raymond Chitty, and Richard Guzman (Carla's husband). Ca. 1965

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".[citation needed]

In 1944, while the Wallendas were performing in Hartford, Connecticut, a circus fire broke out, killing over 168 people. None of the Wallendas were hurt.

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, when, 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.

Karl Wallenda crossed the Tallulah Gorge in Georgia on a high wire on July 18, 1970.

On March 22, 1978, during a promotional walk in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Karl Wallenda fell from the wire and died. It was between the towers of Condado Plaza Hotel, 10 stories high. He was 73. Nik Wallenda completed the walk on June 4, 2011, with his mother, Delilah.[1]

There are several branches of the Wallendas performing today, comprising mostly grandchildren of Karl Wallenda. They still perform regularly and have achieved recognition in the Guinness Book of Records.

On October 15, 2008, Nik broke the world record for the highest and longest bike ride on a high wire live on NBC's Today.[2]

Nik Wallenda became the first aerialist to walk directly over Niagara Falls on June 15, 2012, from the United States into Canada. Wearing a safety harness as required by ABC television, he crossed at the river's widest point.[3]

Nik Wallenda became the first aerialist to walk directly over the Little Colorado River Gorge in the Grand Canyon in the U.S. State of Arizona on June 23, 2013, doing so as it was broadcast live on Discovery Channel. At a height of 1,500 feet above the Little Colorado River, Nik Wallenda walked upon a wire just 2 inches thick, without a harness or safety net. During his traversing of the 1,400-foot-wide gap between the cliffs, Nik stopped to adjust cable sway and to accommodate for the sudden wind gusts with no safety tether attaching him to his line. At the end of his walk Wallenda ran to the end of the wire, jumped down and kissed the ground.[4]

Notable family members[edit]

  • Karl Wallenda (21 January 1905 – 22 March 1978) was the founder and leader of the group until he fell to his death in 1978. He was 73.
  • Nikolas and Erendira Wallenda, Karl's great-grandson and his wife now perform with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. He is a seventh generation Wallenda. Erendira comes from the Flying Vasquez family of trapeze artists. They have three children, sons Yanni, Amadaos and daughter Evita Wallenda, who are also learning the family trade.

Family tree[edit]

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Engelbert Wallenda
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Lucy
 
Herman Wallenda
1901–1985
 
 
 
Martha Henderson
 
 
 
Karl Wallenda
1905–1978
 
Helen Kreis
1910–1996
 
 
 
 
 
 
Willi Wallenda
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Gunther Herman Wallenda
1927–1996
 
 
 
 
Richard Faughnan
d. 1962
 
Jenny Wallenda
 
Richard "Chico" Guzman
d. 1972
 
Carla Wallenda
 
Mike Morgan
 
Steven Wallenda
 
Elizabeth "Angel" Pintye
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Tino Wallenda
 
Delilah Wallenda
 
Tammy Wallenda
 
Rick Wallenda
 
Rietta Wallenda
 
Mario Wallenda
 
Valerie Wallenda
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Nik Wallenda
 

In film, books and song[edit]

  • In 1978, The Great Wallendas aired, a made-for-TV movie about the family."The Great Wallendas" at IMDb
  • On the November 17, 1997, episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, Frank says that he doesn't give a "Flying Wallenda", about a fish that Ray bought for him.
  • In August, 2003, on the 8th episode of Sex and the City's 6th season, Stanford teases Carrie by comparing a piece she's writing about the flying trapeze to "her days as a Flying Wallenda."
  • In December 2008, TLC aired a one-hour documentary about Tino and the Wallenda family produced by Jen Stocks for Figure 8 Films.
  • In 2010, alternative country band Drive-By Truckers recorded a song "The Flying Wallendas" about the high-wire circus act. It appears on their album The Big To-Do.[5]
  • The Flying Wallendas mentioned in Dead Like Me – "Send in the Clown" (25 July 2004)
  • Rietta Wallenda is mentioned in Mad Men Season 3, Episode 2.
  • In a Days of our Lives episode that aired on July 26, 2012, Nicole Walker quips that she doesn't give a "Flying Wallenda" what Victor Kiriakis thinks, thus referencing the circus act.
  • Electronic producer Andrew Weatherall wrote the song 'Let's Do The 7 Again' from his album A Pox on the Pioneers about the Wallenda's tragic attempt at the seven-person high-wire pyramid in 1962, and their triumph at succeeding when trying again in 2008.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]