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The Flying Wallendas

Circus Performers

Born: 1922
Birthplace: Various
Best known as:

The most famous high-wire act of the 20th century

The Flying Wallendas were the most famous high-wire act of the 20th 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. Various members of the family have continued performing into the 21st century; one, Nik Wallenda, made a successful walk over Niagara Falls on 15 June 2012.

Extra credit:

A 1978 movie, The Great Wallendas, starred Lloyd Bridges as patriarch Karl Wallenda.

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