The Wallendas are one of the most legendary circus families of all time, with roots as performers stretching back to Austria in the 1780s. Earlier generations had included acrobats, clowns, jugglers, and aerialists but the current act was born when German-born Karl Wallenda (1905-1978) apprenticed to high wire walker Louis Weitzman and learned (if you’ll excuse the expression) the rope. In 1922 he formed his own act, with several members of his family. In 1928 they joined the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus where they were a staple throughout the 1930s and 40s (and many times since). The stunt they are most famous for was a “seven man pyramid” atop a wire.They changed their name from The Great Wallendas to The Flying Wallendas when the entire family fell off the wire (as was usual, without a net) at an engagement in Akron, Ohio and survived. But they were not always so lucky. Many Wallendas would be lost to falls and accidents over the years, including Karl Wallenda himself, who fell while performing in Puerto Rico in 1978. He was 73.
Currently Karl’s great grandson Nik and his wife Erendira perform for Ringling Bros. Last year he walked across Niagara Falls across a tightrope. This Sunday he plans to cross the Grand Canyon across the same manner of bridge. For more details about that exciting event go to nikwallenda.com.
To find out about the history of the variety arts, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc