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  • 25.06.2019

    ‘Flying Wallendas’ Cross Times Square on High Wire in Death-Defying Stunt

    • Description
      On Sunday night, Nik and Lijana Wallenda walked a quarter-mile on a wire strung 25 stories above Midtown Manhattan.
      Nik Wallenda, a member of the Flying Wallendas circus family, walking on a wire over Times Square in Manhattan on Sunday.

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      Ali Ali, 30, looked up from his steaming hot dog cart on West 45th Street on Sunday night and gazed up at a wire rigged along the length of Times Square between two skyscrapers, 25 stories above street level.

      “It’s crazy — they are walking through the sky,” said Mr. Ali, who for the moment had no customers.

      They, along with throngs of onlookers — whether tourists or jaded New Yorkers — were staring, necks craned, toward the night sky to watch Nik and Lijana Wallenda walking a wire high above Manhattan.

      The siblings — members of the Flying Wallendas circus family — held balancing poles and started on opposite sides of a 1,300-foot wire, strung between 1 Times Square at the south end at 42nd Street, and 2 Times Square, just north of the TKTS booth at 47th Street.

      They slowly inched toward the center of the wire, where they met and embarked on the delicate process of passing each other.

      Ms. Wallenda lowered herself and sat carefully on the wire as her brother skillfully stepped over her.

      Ms. Wallenda said she struggled briefly when standing back up, but added, “I was calm about it — I was like, ‘I got this.’”

      Then they both proceeded on their separate ways to complete the stunt.

      “Maybe the biggest surprise was that the wire was as stable as it was,” Mr. Wallenda said afterward.

      Mr. Wallenda stepping over his sister Lijana Wallenda.

      The wire walk had the feel of an old-time spectacle, and spectators who packed Times Square seemed for the moment immune to the flashy billboards and other distractions.

      Mr. Wallenda began slowly from the north end of the wire at roughly 9 p.m.

      “There he goes,” said Douglas Klein, a landscaper from Corvalis, Ore., who was on vacation in New York, along with his sister Becky Bernosky and her daughters, Laci, 15, and Lindsey, 11.

      “It all seems kind of scary because I don’t want him to fall,” Lindsey said, staring up at Mr. Wallenda.

      “I don’t even like heights, so I can feel my heart racing,” said Christina Divne, who was visiting New York from Stockholm with her family.

      She said the walk might have been more exciting if the Wallendas had not worn safety harnesses, “but it would also be more messy if they fell to their deaths doing this.”

      Spectators applauded from the street as the Wallendas performed overhead.

      After they crossed in the middle of the wire, Mr. Wallenda, 40, finished more quickly than his sister. Then the crowd cheered heartily as if to buoy Ms. Wallenda to a safe end.

      For Ms. Wallenda, 42, the walk was her first high-wire attempt since a 2017 accident in which she and four other walkers fell 30 feet off a tightrope during a rehearsal and were seriously injured.

      People in a high-rise watching Mr. Wallenda during the stunt over Times Square.

      In an interview after the walk, Mr. Wallenda said he became emotional when meeting his sister in the middle of the wire.

      “It was hard to hold it together,” he said.

      Mr. Wallenda said the blinding billboards were dizzying and difficult to prepare for.

      “How do you duplicate Times Square and the distractions?” he said.

      However, at least one distraction proved enthralling: the roar of the crowd.

      “We’re entertainers — we live for that,” said Mr. Wallenda, who has been walking tightropes since childhood.

      In 2012, he walked a wire over Niagara Falls, and in 2013, he traversed the Little Colorado River Gorge near the Grand Canyon.

      New York City’s love affair with death-defying stunts is well established, dating at least to Harry Houdini’s 1912 escape from handcuffs, leg-irons and a sealed, weighted crate that was submerged in the East River.

      The daredevil Evel Knievel, dressed in his trademark red, white and blue leather jumpsuit, jumped his motorcycle over nine cars and a van in Madison Square Garden in 1971.

      Three years later, Philippe Petit walked a wire between the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

      The Wallenda family’s performance history dates back to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late 1700s.

      Onlookers gazing upward as the Wallendas executed their stunt, 25 stories above street level.

      What wire walk should Mr. Wallenda tackle next? Mr. Ali, the hot dog vendor, offered his own opinion.

      “I’m Egyptian, so of course I think his next trick should be walking between the pyramids,” he said.

      The same question was posed to Mr. Wallenda.

      “I really want to want walk over an active volcano,” he said.

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