Jean Francois Gravelet, better known as Blondin, became obsessed with the idea of crossing the Niagara River on a tightrope in 1855.
Finally in June of 1859, armed with an 1100 foot length of special rope to span the gorge, Blondin prepared for his stunt. The rope was stretched across the Niagara River about halfway between the cataracts and what is today the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge.
Spectators were charged 25 cents to view the crossing with the privilege of obtaining a seat for the show for an extra quarter.
At 5 pm June 30th with much fanfare, Blondin set out for Canada. A short way out, he stopped , lay down full length on the rope on his back and then raised himself on one leg. Shortly after, he lowered a bottle on a string to people aboard the Maid of the Mist to be filled. He hauled the bottle back up, drank and continued on his way. The first crossing took 20 minutes.
After that, there were many more crossings, each more daring than the one before. Blondin walked and ran across, forwards and backwards, even in darkness. He crossed by bicycle. Once he even pushed a wheelbarrow to the centre of the rope where he stopped, cooked and ate an omelet made on a small stove. He even made one crossing on stilts. But perhaps his most spectacular crossing was when he carried his manager across on a special shoulder harness.
Needless to say, 1859 was a tremendously successful year financially for Blondin.
See Blondin’s story captured through the magic of IMAX® in “Niagara Falls Legends & Daredevils”, now showing at the IMAX® theatre.
Excerpts taken from Francis Petrie's “Historical Flashback”
Blondin info and photo courtesy of IMAX Theatre. Visit thier page for a discount admission coupon.