The Flying Wallendas
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The most famous high-wire act of the 20th century
The Flying Wallendas were the most famous high-wire act of the 20th century, a family of acrobats who traced their circus roots to the late 18th century. They worked without a safety net and were known for their high-wire headstands, bicycle rides, and especially for their acutely dangerous signature act: the seven-person human pyramid. The Wallendas troupe was created in 1922 by family patriarch Karl Wallenda, and began touring with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1928. (Their original name was The Great Wallendas; the "Flying" nickname came later.) The family has endured various tragedies over the years, including a famous 1962 pyramid crash in Detroit which left two performers dead and one paralyzed. Karl Wallenda died in a 1978 fall from an outdoor wire 10 stories high in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In 1998 the sixth generation of the Wallendas returned to Detroit and performed the seven-person pyramid again, this time successfully. An attempt at an eight-person pyramid failed in 2017, and five performers were injured during a rehearsal. Various members of the family have continued performing into the 21st century; one, Nik Wallenda, goes by "The King of the Wire" and has performed several high profile stunts, incluing a successful walk over Niagara Falls (2012) and a successful walk over a live volcano, Masaya, in Nicaragua (2020).
A 1978 movie, The Great Wallendas, starred Lloyd Bridges as patriarch Karl Wallenda.
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