Clifford Claverly is another tightrope walker to challenge the Niagara Gorge.
He is probably best known as being the fastest tightrope walker, having completed his journey in the time of 2 minutes, 32 5/8 seconds.
Most of his contemporaries had taken fifteen to twenty minutes to cross.
Claverly also amazed the audiences with such stunts as skipping a rope, hanging by one arm, hanging by one foot, sitting on a chair and using a wheelbarrow.
JEAN FRANCOIS GRAVELET was known as The Great Blondin and was the first of a host of tightrope walkers that eventually found their way to Niagara Falls.
Jean Francois Gravelet
Blondin was a professional tightrope walker who had been trained as a circus performer in the European tradition. While in his early thirties he immigrated to America and soon made it be known that he would cross the Niagara Gorge on a tightrope.
On June 30, 1859, at 5:00 p.m. Blondin began his trip. Spectators were amazed when they saw him lower a rope to the Maid of the Mist and pull up a bottle, which he then began to sit down on the rope and drink.
Continuing on towards the Canadian side, Blondin suddenly stopped, adjusted his pole, and without hesitation executed a back somersault. Several more trips were made, each one attempting to outdo the last.
Blondin crossed the Niagara gorge on a bicycle, blindfolded, pushing a wheelbarrow and even with his hands and feets manacled. On one occasion he even cooked an omelette on a small burner in the center of the tightrope.
But perhaps the most memorable was when he crossed the gorge carrying his manager, Harry Colcord on his back. It would be the supreme test of Blondins skill and stamina.
That day over 100,000 spectators jammed every available space along the gorge. According to Colcord, the trip was a nightmare.
On several occasions Blondin had to hastily run for the guy rope to steady the two. On the very first occasion the guy rope broke, forcing Blondin to hastily run for the next.
Upon reaching the second guy rope Blondin gasped for Colcord to dismount. The terrified manager slithered down Blondins sweat soaked back.
The Great Farini
The Great Farini aka William Leonard Hunt was born in Lockport, New York but raised in Port Hope Ontario.
As a young man he had watched as the Infamous Blondin performed tightrope walking stunts high above the Niagara River.
William Hunt pursued his dream of walking across the gorge on a tightrope. He even changed his name to Signor Guillermo Antonio Farini. He would soon become known as The Great Farini.
Farini then issued several challenges to Blondin. Farini’s first performance at Niagara Falls took place on August 15th 1860.
When Farini reached mid point, he attached a rope to the tightrope and proceeded to lower himself onto the deck of the Maid of the Mist 200 ft below. He drank a glass of wine and engaged in conversation with passengers before ascending back up the rope. Farijni was always trying to outdo his rival Blondin.
On one of his performances he carried a washtub out on the tightrope, then he lowered a bucket to the river below retrieving water with which he then used to wash a dozen hankerchiefs, given to him by female admirers. In 1866 Farini took his tightrope act to Europe, Africa and the Middle East. He returned to Canada in 1899. The Great Farini died in January 1929 at the age of 91. He is buried in Port Hope Ontario.
Maria Spelterina Maria Spelterina was just 23 years old when she too attempted to cross the gorge high overhead on a tightrope. In 1876 she performed with such grace and ease that she appeared to make the whole stunt look easy.
She also made the trip several times walking backwards and with peach baskets attached to her feet. On July 26th 1876 Maria Spelterini made a final crossing. Ms. Spelterini left Niagara, never to return. Her life and death remain somewhat of a mystery.
An amateur tightrope walker from Niagara Falls named Steve Peere was the only tightrope walker to ever come to a tragic end. Stephen Peere was born in 1840 in the Stamford Township. He was just a young man when he saw Blondin perform on the tightrope.
In 1873 Stephen Peere became an assistant to Balleni, helping him install his ropes across the gorge. Peere’s first attempt across the gorge took place with Balleni’s equipment, but without his consent.
Mr. Balleni, seeing how the crowds took to this hometown amateur decided to cut the tightrope. He was discovered and his plan thwarted and poor Mr. Ballini was run out of town. On July 22, 1887 Peere walked across the gorge on a cable ¾ of an inch thick.
This was a remarkable feat considering that performers in the past had used cable wire 2 inches thick. Three days later the lifeless body of Stephen Peere was found on the bank of the river, beneath his rope. It appeared that Mr. Peere had attempted to make a night crossing in his street shoes after an evening of drinking and had lost his balance and fallen to his death.
Samuel J. Dixon
Samuel Dixon crosses the gorge on a tightropeSamuel J. Dixon, a Toronto Photographer made the trip across the gorge the year following Stephen Peere’s death, on Mr. Peere’s 923 ft., ¾ ” cable.
On one occasion the amateur even laid down on the wire, on another he dangled from the cable by one arm. Mr. Dixon was quite a showman and was always greeted with much applause.
In 1873 another funambulist appeared on the scene in Niagara. His name was Henry Balleni (or Bellini), and he was known as the “Australian Blondin”, although he was Italian, not Australian as he claimed.
In 1873 he set his 2.25 inch rope up from the Clifton House to Prospect Park. On the morning of August 25, 1873 he attempted his walk. Although the location that Balleni had selected was scenic the winds that were created by the large amounts of falling water would greatly affect his performance.
Balleni performed his tightrope walk many times. He completed the same stunts as Blondin and Farini before him. He crossed blindfolded, in a sack, and pushing a wheelbarrow.
Balleni did however complete a stunt that none of his predecessors had managed to perform. He was the only tightrope walker that actually jumped from the rope. In fact Mr. Balleni may have been the first 19th century bungee jumper.
To help break the fall from the tightrope Mr. Balleni used a 12 ft. rubber cord, which he attached to the tightrope. If everything was timed correctly, Mr. Balleni would release the cord at just the right moment and help break his fall.
Two attempts at the jump proved successful and the crowds went wild. On the third jump on August 31 the rubber cord broke and wrapped itself around his leg. Balleni was rescued that day but narrowly escaped with his life.
Henri Julien Rechatin
In an era when stunting was a viable form of entertainment daredevils had to constantly perform more daring feats. One such tightrope walker was Henri Rechatin. Mr. Rechatin would attempt a crossing of the Whirlpool on the cables on the Spanish Aero Car. This would seem an unlikely choice.
The Spanish Aero Car cables are not supported by guy wires, so wind can be a problem. The cables are also greased making navigation even more difficult.
In 1975 three people attempted the crossing using an unusual contraption. Early on the morning of June 4th, 1975 Henri Rechatin, his wife Janyck and his friend Frank Lucas made the perilous trip.
Lucas, a motorcycle champion drove a motorcycle on the cable. Attached to the motorcycle were two perches, one above and one below. Janyck would occupy the perch below, hanging from one foot and Rechatin would be on top balancing everything with his pole.
The journey across was not without incident. At one point Rechatin had to stop while Lucas, who had never performed this type of stunt before could regain his composure.
The trio did make it across unscathed. On the 20th anniversary of his tightrope walk Rechatin attempted to secure permission from authorities to repeat his stunt. He was promptly turned down by the Parks Police and made no further attempt to repeat his stunt.