By Joshua Maloni
Nik Wallenda will walk over Niagara Falls again.
Well, sort of.
At a press conference Wednesday morning, it was announced celebrated sculptor Susan Geissler will create a bronze statue of the “King of the Highwire” – and the figure will be suspended in the air over a portion of Old Falls Street facing Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino.
Local elected leaders invited Wallenda back to Niagara Falls to observe the 10th anniversary of his historic tightrope walk from Niagara Falls State Park to Niagara Falls, Ontario. The aerialist is the first and only person to cross Niagara Falls in such fashion. His feat was broadcast live, across the country, on a primetime television special.
City of Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino said, “This is a really important day for us. It again commemorates something (special). We always know that Niagara Falls is in the minds of people all across the world. They come to visit us year after year after year. But for that one moment 10 years ago, all of the eyes in the globe were focused on the City of Niagara Falls. And so, this is a very important time for us to remember that spectacular event.”
He explained the statue will provide a “continual memory of what happened 10 years ago.”
“It's our intention to bring to the City of Niagara Falls a lasting memory of the event that put us in a much different place,” Restaino said.
Calling it the “Sculpture in the Sky,” Restaino again said, “It is our intention to forever commemorate the wire walk of Nik Wallenda over the falls by having that same impression here, over Old Falls Street.”
The “Sculpture in the Sky.”
Geissler’s works include the Freedom Crossing and Tuscarora Heroes monuments in Lewiston.
Of the Wallenda project, she said, “I’ve been asked to execute this sculpture of Nik. I’m very flattered to be selected as the artist to do this.”
She noted the cast bronze figure will weigh about 300 pounds.
“It's going to be a pretty exciting project,” Geissler said. “I’ll do a lot of research on Nik himself and make sure that I’ll produce the likeness of him.”
A portion of the wire Wallenda used to walk the falls is expected to be included in the tribute piece.
The $150,000 project – said to be funded through sponsors – is anticipated to take one year to complete.
Nik Wallenda addresses the media.
Wallenda said, “This is a surprise to me … which is pretty awesome. I, personally, have never seen a sculpture above the ground, or above the street, so I'm excited to see how it's gonna work. But it's quite an honor.”
At the media gathering, Restaino presented Wallenda with a proclamation and key to the Cataract City. New York State Assemblyman Angelo Morinello and New York State Sen. Rob Ortt also presented Wallenda with citations.
Ortt said, “Nik Wallenda, 10 years ago, did for Niagara Falls with one event what countless other people claim they wanted to do for Niagara Falls: He brought people to the City of Niagara Falls. He put Niagara Falls back on the map globally – for all the right reasons.”
Wallenda had to gain permission to cross the falls from both the U.S. and Canadian governments. He said it was no easy feat, but well worth the time and effort.
“I tell the story often that, when I was 5 years old, I came and saw the falls with my parents. They were performing on a Shrine Circus in Buffalo. And it was at that point that I remember looking across and already thinking about walking a wire across there,” Wallenda said. “Now, with my family history, it probably makes sense. My mom was six months pregnant with me and still walking the wire. So, I've done this longer than I've been alive, and that's the way that my mind works.
“But I’d always wanted to walk across it. I just didn't know what it was going to take to get permission. I knew that there was a law in the United States that banned stunting for over 100 years, and something very similar on the Canadian side.”
He explained, “We all hear the stories of Charles Blondin, and all these amazing wire walkers. But the truth is, after we did research, none of them ever walked over the precipice of the falls. They walked over the gorge. And there are many reasons why we believe that happened. I believe technology played a role in that, just being able to string the cable up directly over those falls. As it advanced, it made that easier.
“I remember talking with another great wire walker, Jay Cochrane, who has since passed away, but he did many walks over on the Canadian side; always his dream to walk over the falls. An incredible mentor and somebody I always looked up to. But I remember Jay saying it was impossible to walk directly over the precipice of the falls, where I did, because he felt the wind and the conditions … I would not be able to make it across. So, there are many reasons why no one did, but it was a dream of mine.”
Wallenda said it's his hope that “people are encouraged to continue to look forward. Don't look back, but continue to look forward – and chase your dreams and your goals and your ambitions. I've lived my life that way.”
He shared how, once he crossed into Canada, he was asked to present his passport and reason for visiting.
“What I said was my goal is to inspire people to pursue their dreams – no matter what challenges they face. And to be inspired that nothing is impossible, if you set your mind to it and keep God No. 1,” Wallenda said. “And that really has been my life's journey. It's really been my life. My family's life's journey is to inspire others. I think that we're all on a tightrope, and we're all trying to make it from one side to the other. And it's so important that we continue to face the other side.”
Wallenda added, “This place is special to me. Niagara Falls will always be. It was the walk. I had broken a couple world records prior to that; I had a TV series on the Discovery Channel; but it was this walk, here, that really put the ‘Nik’ part of the Wallenda name on the map.”
Though he was tight-lipped on his next big adventure, Wallenda, 43, suggested a different Niagara Falls walk would be a fitting capstone to his career – sometime around the age of 55.
“One of my dreams is to actually pick the balancing pole up on the Canadian side and walk back to the United States over Niagara Falls and put that balancing pole down in history,” he said. “The goal is to do that untethered, though. As most of you know that know me, it is always my desire to not wear a tether. The only time I wear a tether is if my (TV) network partner requires it (as they did 10 years ago). But that is a dream of mine.
“And I would love nothing more than to be able to walk back from Canada to the United States, to say, ‘Thank you. It's been an amazing career.’ ”
Wallenda noted, “When Canada changed their legislation (allowing him to walk the wire), it was once-in-a-generation, which is considered 20 years. So therefore, I have to wait another 10 years before I'm able to make that walk anyways – in order to get permission. Which will be a process – and I get it. It's going to be a big process, but I live for that stuff. I live for those challenges.”
Wallenda receives proclamations and a key to the City of Niagara Falls from Assemblyman Angelo Morinello, Sen. Rob Ortt and Mayor Robert Restaino.