I got a chance to visit Darien Lake, a theme park just south of Niagara Falls in Western New York, for the first time recently. The man-made lake was dug out in 1954 and became a popular swimming destination. In 1964, picnic facilities and a campground were added and in the late ‘70s, a few water slides were added to the mix and it became a draw for tourists.
During this time, an investor named Paul Snyder made a deal with HUSS, a German rides manufacturer, and Darien Lake became the company’s premier showcase for all of their new attractions to potential buyers in North America.
Darien Lake, like many parks, has changed ownership many times and we will cover their sordid history in a future article. However, the main reason for my visit this year was to see their star attraction for 2014. While Orlando parks were busy opening up the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Diagon Alley, Darien Lake added a tightrope walker as its main feature for the 2014 season: Nik Wallenda.
No stranger to performing, Wallenda hails as a 7th generation performer of the famous Flying Wallendas, a family of circus entertainers who have been performing death defying acts since the 1700s. He calls his heritage, “like standing on the shoulders of giants. They’ve created a legacy that has gone on for seven generations and I’ve been able to continue it along.”
The Wallenda family is also fully aware of the dangers they face, as several family members have been killed during practice or performing. Karl Wallenda actually died while falling off a tight rope in Puerto Rico in 1973.
Nik Wallenda is no stranger to performing in theme parks either. In 2001, he appeared with several other family members in Japan’s Kurashiki Tivoli Park, where he set a Guinness World Record. The Wallenda family completed the world’s first eight-person pyramid and successfully walked across a tight rope in 30-foot-tall tightrope in six minutes.
In 2009, he completed the “Walk Across America Tour,” where he went to nearly all the Cedar Fair Parks within the chain. Some of those highlights included walking across the North/South Caroling State line at Carowinds, a theme park that straddles the state borders. However, the highlight of the tour was at King’s Island, just outside of Cincinnati, Ohio, where Wallenda went from the front entrance to the park’s Eiffel Tower. That particular tightrope was 800-feet long and 262 feet off the ground, the highest walk of his career at the time.
More recently, Wallenda fulfilled a lifelong dream of walking across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Strangely enough, while the walk itself was death defying, the real issues came from logistical concerns. In order to pull this off, he had to lobby both the American and Canadian governments, as he was crossing from New York into Ontario. Both countries had issue with the cost for emergency crews, crowd control and even the possible unwanted publicity the stunt might bring.
To prepare for crossing the Falls, he set up a tightrope in the parking lot of the Seneca Niagara Casino for 11 days straight. In order to mentally prepare for the real thing, he had fire trucks come in and blast him with water and set up high powered fans to simulate what it would be like when the big moment arrived. Due to the location, the wire was not able to use normal supports and had to be custom made. In addition, the wire itself was two inches thick and weighed roughly eight tons. On June 15, 2012, in front of nearly 200,000 live spectators, he crossed over Niagara Falls.
You also may remember him from his most recent stunt, which aired live on the Discovery Channel in 2013, from his special “Skywire Live With Nik Wallenda.” Several years in the making, he crossed over the Grand Canyon on live television with millions of people watching from around the world. To date, it was the highest walk of his career, 1,500 feet off the ground, which is about seven times higher than the Niagara Falls stunt.
Over 10.7 million viewers watched as he crossed over 1,500 feet of rope in just under 23 minutes. It was the highest-rated live program in Discovery Channel’s history and became huge on social media on the day of the event as well as the actual live crossing.
This summer, Nik Wallenda returned to his theme park roots with a live show for Darien Lake guests that will leave them talking for years to come. In addition to the main event, Darien Lake also had a movie playing every hour about Nik’s story (a lot of which is chronicled above) as well as his family history. Also they featured a tightrope training camp where kids could practice what it was like walking the wire before they saw the live show later on in the day.
Nik Wallenda: Beyond The Falls is a 60 minute variety show featuring not only the Wallenda family, but several variety acts including fire dancers…. comedians…..
….. jugglers…. and more.
Of course, the main event was seeing Nik Wallenda and his wife get up on two sway poles near the rafters of the theater and balance themselves using no support.
And the finale where his entire family did high wire stunts in front of a live audience complete with bicycles. It was truly amazing.
If you’d like to catch Nik Wallenda: Beyond The Falls at Darien Lake, you need to hustle to Western New York by September 1st of 2014. If not, just based on his career, I am sure he will turn up at another theme park in the near future. It seems to be in his blood.
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