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Nik Wallenda: Will he or won't he (dump the safety line)?

June 15, 2012|By Tina Susman
  • Nik Wallenda on the day before his historic walk on a wire across Niagara Falls, from the U.S. to the Canadian side near Horseshoe Falls.
Nik Wallenda on the day before his historic walk on a wire across Niagara… (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles…)

As Nik Wallenda prepared for his high-wire walk over Niagara Falls on Friday, the big question among stunt fans wasn't whether Wallenda would succeed. It was whether Wallenda would dump the safety harness and tether that ABC demanded he wear for the prime-time event.

And what better place to go for an opinion than the arbiter of all things daredevilish than the Daredevil Museum on the U.S. side of the falls, where owner Mark DiFrancesco was betting on the 33-year-old Wallenda tossing the safety device when he's out over the water.

After all, who's to stop Wallenda once he begins the roughly 1,800-foot-long trek along a 2-inch-wide cable from the U.S. side to Ontario, Canada?

"When you talk to people around here, they all think he'll unhook the harness," said DiFrancesco, whose tiny museum comprises half of a convenience store and is stuffed with barrels, oars, life jackets, homemade rafts and other items used by past stunters to go over the falls.

"I think he just might," said DiFrancesco, who was celebrating the walk by selling Wallenda Weenies -- hot dogs with one half coated in grated American cheese and the other half wrapped in Canadian bacon, to reflect the international flavor of the walk itself.

Across the border, even the mayor of Niagara Falls, Canada, Jim Diodati, seemed to hint at a possible jettisoning of the harness. He chatted with the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday as Wallenda signed autographs and posed for photographs at Table Rock, the end-point of the walk. "If he has any concerns because of the use of the tether, I hope he'll remove it," said Diodati, hastening to add that he was not advocating Wallenda toss the harness for dramatic effect.

Rather, he noted that the high-wire artist never uses safety devices and that having one attached to him as he navigates the perilous path could make things even more dangerous. After all, additional ropes, lines and hooks can tangle in the wet, windy conditions, and Wallenda himself has said he is not nervous about the walk, but he is a bit edgy about that tether.

"The truth is, mentally it might add to it," Wallenda said this week when asked at a news conference if he thought the tether would take away some of the drama of the moment.

Wallenda won't be the first to cross Niagara Falls on a high-wire, but nobody has performed the feat as close to the roaring waterfall as he plans to do, making his the longest and most challenging of the Niagara tightrope walks.

"It's a good, historical stunt," said DiFrancesco, adding that because of Wallenda's professional stature, rigorous training and countless practice sessions, he would not put Wallenda in the same category as people who have merely bundled themselves into barrels and hoped for the best as they rolled into the rapids below the falls.

DiFrancesco already has a place in the museum reserved for a Wallenda exhibit. Now, he's just hoping for a memento from the high-wire walker himself once the event is over. His balancing pole, perhaps, or the shoes that Wallenda's mother made for the event, which should help his feet grip the cable even as it is soaked from the falls spray.

Maybe even the harness.

"Maybe he'll give that to me before he walks," DiFrancesco said with a laugh.

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tina.susman@latimes.com

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