Only one woman has walked the tightrope over Niagara Falls – but she did it 5 times in 19 days


Published March 8, 2023 at 11:18 am

In case you're curious about her footware, Maria Spelterini is crossing the Niagara Gorge on a tightrope, wearing peach baskets as shoes. As daredevils do sometimes. (Photo: Niagara Falls Public Library)

As it is International Women’s Day, let’s take a look at the only woman who’s crossed the Niagara Gorge and then marvel at the fact she did it five times in 19 days – making each trip progressively more treacherous.

Maria Spelterini was an Italian tightrope walker, as well as the first and only woman to cross the Niagara Gorge in front of the falls with thousands looking on, crowd sizes growing with each feat.

To celebrate the American centennial, Spelterini did her first tightrope walk on July 8, 1876 at the age of 23. Her walk on a two-and-a-half inch (6.4 cm) steel tightrope was done in front of the Niagara Suspension Bridge, which was jammed with spectators.

Apparently, that didn’t wet her appetite for danger because she was back at it four days later on July 12. However, this time, her traditionally colourful costumes got a footware upgrade – she had peach baskets strapped to her feet.

Again, that wasn’t enough for the daredevil as she came back on July 19 and did the walk with a paper bag over her head.

Anyone thinking she was out of tricks would sorely be mistaken as on July 22, she crossed again – this time with her ankles and wrist shackled in steel.

Finally on July 27, she made her final treacherous trek across the Gorge – walking backwards. Part of the way across, she decided the 1,000 foot tightrope was more of a stage so she began dancing and skipping to the end.

Her elegance in these endeavors was described by a local paper as “traveling the gossamer web with a graceful, confident step, which soon allayed all apprehension of an impending disaster.”

With her male counterparts at Niagara continuing to up the ante, it was clear she sought to prove she could do everything they could do. In her short 19-day span, she made a huge impact, capturing the hearts and imaginations of spectators.

After her Niagara Falls stunts, she went on to perform at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia but despite her notoriety, very little is known about her. Her personal life is a mystery and even her date and place of death remain unknown to this very day.

Maria Spelterini, left, on her second trip wearing peach baskets strapped to her feet. One the right, her first trip over the gorge on July 8, 1876, at the age of 23.

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