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Nik Wallenda is joined on stage at the Seneca Niagara Casino by Bello Nock, a "comic daredevil." (Photo: Daniel Robison, WBFO)
Nik Wallenda is joined on stage at the Seneca Niagara Casino by Bello Nock, a "comic daredevil." (Photo: Daniel Robison, WBFO)

Wallenda brings an eclectic mix to Niagara Falls

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Over the last week, tightrope walker Nik Wallenda's been in Niagara Falls, practicing for his June 15th walk over the famous Falls. The Innovation Trail's Daniel Robison joined hundreds of people at the scene and found Wallenda's presence inspired an eclectic, carnival atmosphere in the hard scrabble city of 50,000.

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During practice, Wallenda stands on a two-inch thick wire, 10 feet above a parking lot. Slowly but surely, he proceeds with a 45 pound balancing beam strung around his neck. A few hundred spectators walk the route with him behind metal barriers, snapping pictures along the way.

Among the throng is lifelong Niagara Falls resident Frank Sexton.

"It seems great for the city, man," Sexton says. "There all kind of people walking around here. It's got to be great for local shops."

Local businesses have hung banners all over downtown welcoming Wallenda and his crowds of potential customers.

Since the public practice sessions began May 10, Lockport resident Paul Mroziak has traveled to Niagara Falls three times to watch Wallenda.

"It's something I'm never going to see again in my lifetime. I would think that it would help tourism. Can't hurt it, that's for sure," Mroziak says, laughing.

It might actually be a once in a lifetime event.

U.S. and Canadian authorities, in allowing the first wirewalk in more than a century, agreed that no more can happen for another 20 years.

Still, courting daredevil stunts to boost tourism is a good idea, according to spectator Jeff Jehrio.

"I think it brings excitement," says Jehrio, who juggled tennis balls while watching Wallenda. "It brings danger. People love to see danger. Just the fact that he could fall is exciting to certain folks."

Sideshow stimulus

There's a sideshow component to the festivities for sure. Peddlers, providers of bicycle tricks, magicians and buskers offer ancillary entertainment for the curious.

While Wallenda will be the star of a three-hour prime time special on ABC on June 15, the event's preamble includes this series of public practice sessions above the parking lot of the Seneca Niagara Casino.

Wallenda has a stage in front of the gambling house where he answers questions from the public.

As a seventh-generation funambulist, Wallenda and his crew know how to drum up publicity and handle a crowd.

Before he takes the stage, a member of his entourage hawks a picture of the wirewalker from NBC's Today show.

"You can have one of these pictures. Nik will sign it. Ten dollars."

Wallenda takes the stage, joined by Bello Nock, the "world's one and only comic daredevil."

"If you're crossing the border, are you going to take your passport with you?" Nock asks Wallenda, jokingly. "Is border control going to be on the other side?"

"There's a good chance of that," Wallenda quips. "Otherwise I'd have to turn around. And that's a long walk back."

Wallenda said locals have made him feel at home.

"They have been incredibly gracious to Nik Wallenda," Wallenda said. "Because many other people over the last 100 years have come saying, 'Can we get permission to do this?' And they said, 'Thanks but no thanks.' "

An autograph line forms, and Wallenda scribbles his name on anything - t-shirts, casino tickets, Maid of the Mist pamphlets and glossy photos (from the Today show, of course).

But Wallenda's time in Niagara Falls is nearly over.

Before June 15, he will perform shows in Branson, Missouri. And he's already planning his next stunts: walking across the Grand Canyon and crossing the Continental Divide in Turkey.

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