Little Bits of History

Flying Wallendas

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 22, 2011

Karl Wallenda

March 22, 1978: Karl Wallenda dies from a fall. Karl was part of The Great Wallendas and was 73 years old at the time of his death. He was born in Magdeburg, Germany. He had been performing with his family since he was six. The Wallendas were already famous in Europe, especially noted for their four-man pyramid and cycling on a high wire when they came to the US in 1928. They joined the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus and their debut was held at Madison Square Garden. They performed there without a net because it had been lost in transit. They were met with a standing ovation.

They were performing in Akron, Ohio when they fell from the high wire. No one was injured. The next day, a newspaper reported “The Wallendas fell so gracefully that it seemed as if they were flying.” Their name changed to The Flying Wallendas after this. In 1944, they were performing with the circus in Hartford, Connecticut when a fire started and killed 168 people in a disaster called the Hartford Circus Fire. None of the Wallendas suffered injury.

In the following years, Karl developed a seven-person chair pyramid. They performed the act successfully for years. In 1962, while performing in Detroit, the front man on the wire faltered and the pyramid collapsed. Two men were killed when they fell to the ground. Karl himself injured his pelvis and his adopted son, Mario, was paralyzed from the waist down. Another Wallenda fell to her death in 1963 and Karl’s son-in-law was killed when he touched a live electric wire while holding metal rigging in 1972.

Karl continued to perform, sometimes with smaller groups and sometimes solo. He successfully crossed the Tallulah Gorge in Georgia in 1970. On this day, Karl was attempting to walk a wire between the two towers of the ten-story Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The wire was struck 121 feet above the pavement. Winds were gusting at 30 mph and Karl fell to the ground below. Other family members state the tragedy could have been averted, but several of the guide ropes along the wire were not properly connected for the windy conditions. Other family members continue to perform and The Flying Wallendas remain active.

“Life is being on the wire; everything else is just waiting.” Karl Wallenda

“I am scared easily, here is a list of my adrenaline – production: 1: small children, 2: policemen, 3: high places, 4: that my next movie will not be as good as the last one.” – Alfred Hitchcock

“Wanting to do it was much more powerful than the fright.” – Charlotte Gainsbourg

“Bravery is the capacity to perform properly even when scared half to death.” – Omar N. Bradley

Also on this day:
Laser – In 1960, the laser was patented.
Clint Malarchuk – In 1989, Malarchuk was critically injured on the ice.

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