The hype surrounding Nik Wallenda’s high-wire attempt above Niagara Falls before a national television audience tonight got me to thinking about the time I wrote about another Wallenda daredevil act in Western New York that received much less fanfare, despite being more death-defying.
I wrote a retrospective piece about it for my old newspaper, the Democrat and Chronicle
, and for the history of the Red Wings that I co-wrote with Jim Mandelaro many years ago.
Of all the great performances in the Rochester ballclub’s storied history it would be tough to top – literally – the show that Nik’s grandfather, Karl Wallenda, put on the evening of May 12, 1976. A crowd of just 2,736 looked on at old Silver Stadium as the seventy-one-year-old Wallenda successfully walked a tightrope five hundred feet from the centerfield fence to the grandstand roof – 60 feet above the ground. As I wrote, the performance must have inspired the Wings because they swept a doubleheader from the Rhode Island Red Sox (now known as Pawtucket.)
I say that it was more death-defying than Nik’s attempt because the elder Wallenda did so without a safety tether like the one Nik will use tonight when he traverses the wire over the tumultuous mist of the Horseshoe Falls. (I should note that there has been speculation that Nik may unhook his tether after he begins his journey above the mighty falls. Obviously, if he’s crazy enough to do that – which would be in violation of both United States and Canadian law and his contract with ABC – his journey will become more challenging than Karl’s was at Silver.)
Several members of the acrobatic troupe that came to be known as “The Flying Wallendas” died during falls from the highwire, including Karl, who plunged to his death during an act in San Juan, Puerto Rico at age 73.
The Johnny Antonelli book tour continues Satuday night (June 16) at 7 with a talk and signing at the Pittsford Barnes & Noble. Our presentation is free and open to the public.
Next Tuesday at 1 p.m., we’ll be doing a question-and-answer session and signing at the Bullpen Theater in the Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum. I’m really looking forward to that event, as well as a tour of the museum with Johnny.
Our last signing event for now will be Friday, June 22, before the Red Wings game at Frontier Field. That starts once the gates open (around 5:45). Johnny also will throw out the ceremonial first pitch that evening.
You also can listen to us talk about our book (Johnny Antonelli: A Baseball Memoir, RIT Press, $17.95) with friend and fellow author Curt Smith on WXXI (AM 1370) Saturday from 2-3 p.m. or Monday night at 11 p.m. Curt’s show also is carried on Buffalo’s PBS affiliate, WNED, Saturdays at 7 a.m.