Blondin The Hero Of Niagara


All at once the noise subsided to an expectant murmur as Blondin appeared at the American end of the cable. What the spectators saw was reported next morning in the Express: Mons. Blondin has just successfully accomplished the feat of walking across the Nigeria River on a tight rope in the presence of a crowd variously estimated at from five to ten thousand persons, the first crossed from the American side, stopping midway to refresh himself with water raised in a bottle with a rope from the deck of the steamer Maid of the Mist . The time occupied in the first crossing was seventeen and a hall minutes.

When Blondin arrived at the Canadian side, he greeted the reporters, joined in a toast drunk to his health, and announced that he would return over the cable to the American side in hall an hour. A collection was taken up for him, and he was conveyed in a carriage drawn by four flag-decorated bays to the Clifton House for a short rest. When he came back to the cable for the return crossing, the reporter wrote that he partook of some “refreshments furnished by Mr. Kavanagh of the Great Western Hotel.” The return trip—made quickly and without incident—was almost an anti-climax. “He certainly stands at the head of tight rope walkers and the possession of so much coolness and utter lack of fear must be a luxury,” said an Express editorial. “ Vive Blondin .”

Blondin’s plans for the future, especially for a crossing on the Fourth of July, were widely publicized. The river scene, when that holiday arrived, must have been a strange one. Every vantage point—every tree, every rock, as well as every seat in the grandstands—was occupied by a huge crowd, morbidly confident that Blondin would lose his balance and plunge into the Niagara gorge. They never took their eyes off him lest they miss the awful moment. Betting on the outcome was said to have been huge.

At the appointed hour, Blondin appeared at the American end of the cable without his 38-foot balancing pole. Halfway across, he lay down full length on the cable, putting one foot above the other. He walked backward swiftly, balanced on one foot, extended the other and also his body over the “boiling flood,” whirled himself around as if he had been “on a pivot stool, repeated this in the tenter of the cable, took a flask from his pocket and drank, then completed his journey.

After resting about an hour, he appeared at the Canadian end of the cable, waving a sack. When it was put over his head, spectators saw that it reached to his knees, depriving him of his sight and the use of his arms and hands. With this handicap, he repeated on his return trip the evolutions of the earlier crossing. “In fact, wrote the ecstatic Express reporter, “one can scarcely believe the feat was indeed real, and stands gazing upon the slender cord and the awful gulf in a state of utter bewilderment. … I look back upon it as upon a dream.”

On July 15 the Express reported what was billed as Blondin’s “farewell” performance. He was reported to have made his first crossing walking backward from the American to the Canadian side. On the return trip he pushed a wheelbarrow, “pausing in the center to do several stunts.” On this day he had the greatest crowd so far assembled.

But there was more to come, Blondin had no intention of making his farewell while the crowds continued to grow. On Wednesday, August 3, no doubt “by popular request,” he advertised a fourth crossing. The communities on both sides of Niagara Falls were jammed with visitors, surpassing the crowds of all previous exhibitions. Multitudes arrived, not only from Buffalo and Toronto but also from Rochester and many other cities. Railroads and steamship lines ran excursions.

Blondin appeared about four thirty in the afternoon and quickly crossed from the American to the Canadian side at what a reporter described as a “tripping pace. He rested for about fifteen minutes in Canada and began his return. About halfway to the center, he stopped and sat down, and then stretched out full length. After this, he proceeded to do “a number of daring antics” and finally stood on his head “a moment at least,” swinging and kicking his feet in “the most reckless and ludicrous manner.”

He then resumed his journey, but paused to repeat his antics with the addition of a backward somersault and one or two sudden swings around the cable. (Screams from the ladies.) He laid his balancing pole across the guy ropes, went to the middle distance of the cable, swung himself under it by his hands, and proceeded to work his way back and forth with his hands and feet, monkey-style. He varied this performance by clutching the cable with both hands, swinging his body clear of it, and then hanging for several seconds by both hands, and finally by one hand.

He repeatedly turned somersaults after the fashion of small boys, throwing his feet over his head and between his arms and hanging by his shoulder joints in “a most unnatural position.” He held his body in a horizontal position with his hands, then suspended himself by both legs and later by one leg, with nothing but air and his strength and skill between him and the raging waters below. He whirled around the cable, turned more somersaults, and stood on his head again. He repeated many of the stunts several times before he returned to the American side of the Niagara, completing a performance “exciting enough,” according to the Express reporter, “for the most greedy seeker after sensations.”