Video: French daredevil the first to cross Niagara Falls on tightrope, later used stilts and cooked an omelette on same rope


Published September 22, 2022 at 10:46 am

French acrobat and tightrope walker Charles Blondin is shown here on his first crossing over the Niagara Gorge on June 30, 1859.

Charles Blondin, aka Frenchman Jean Francois Gravelet, was not only a daredevil, he was also an unbelievable showman.

He holds the distinction of being the first person to cross the Niagara Falls gorge from America to Canada and back on a tightrope back on June 30, 1859, and after that, his subsequent crossings became abundantly flashier.

With his trusty three-inch-wide rope stretching 1,100 feet (340 metres) from side-to-side where the Rainbow Bridge is now situated, Blondin worked without any nets or safety harnesses. His thinking was simply if he planned ahead for possible failure, he was simply inviting it.

So with roughly 25,000 watching on both sides of the falls on that June day, Blondin, “dressed in pink tights bedecked with spangles,” armed himself with a balancing pole made of ash, 26 feet long and weighing 50 pounds and started across from the American side.

He would have made it across in less than 20 minutes, except he stopped at the halfway point and motioned to the Maid of the Mist boat in the gorge below. Lowering a rope, they secured a bottle of wine to it, which he then raised and drank in its entirety before continuing his way.

Once he hit the Canadian side (amidst raucous applause), he rested briefly, strapped a Daguerreotype camera to his back and headed back to the U.S. side. Granted, he stopped about 200 feet out, set the camera up in front of him and took a picture of the spectators of the America side.

Keep in mind, this was just his first crossing of the gorge. They got more flamboyant as times marched along.

Just days later on July 4, 1859, Blondin appeared at the American end of the cable, this time without his balancing pole. Halfway across, he lay down on the cable, flipped himself over and began walking backward.

He stopped again to take a swig from his flask and then made it safely to the Canadian side. On the journey back he wore a sack over his body, depriving himself of sight.

Charles Blondin is shown here carrying his manager Harry Colcord on his back, as well as pushing a wheelbarrow from the Canadian side on a tightrope 160 feet above the Niagara Falls gorge.

Blondin announced subsequent crossings, promising that each would be more daring than the last.

On July 15, with American President Millard Fillmore watching from the American side, Blondin walked backward to Canada and returned to the U.S. pushing a wheelbarrow.

Two weeks later, he somersaulted and backflipped his way across, occasionally pausing to dangle from the cable by one hand. Shortly after that he made another crossing, and, after a brief rest, appeared on the Canadian end of the cable with his manager Harry Colcord clinging to his back.

Another time, he ventured out on stilts. In the end, it was estimated that Blondin had crossed Niagara Falls 300 times. It seemed like he was practically a daily show at the Niagara Gorge.

But in his most famous subsequent crossing ever, he carried a stove and utensils on his back, walked to the center of the cable, started a fire and cooked an omelette. When it was ready, he lowered the breakfast to passengers on deck of the Maid of the Mist.

After his many tightrope hijinks at Niagara Falls, Blondin continued to do tightrope walks and acrobatic across Europe before finally retiring. He passed away as a very rich man in London, England in February 1897, almost 40 years after his first Niagara Falls crossing.

Here’s a quick look at his exploits.

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