NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — Nik Wallenda walked across an 1,800-foot wire suspended above Niagara Falls and stepped into history Friday night.
The great-grandson of famed aerialist Karl Wallenda made the first-ever tightrope walk over the iconic Horseshoe Falls in less than 26 minutes.
Wallenda began his walk at 10:15 p.m., from Terrapin Point, N.Y., to cheers and whistles from crowds on both sides of the border. An estimated 4,000 people gathered on the American side of the falls and 125,000 on the Canadian side.
People shouted "oh my god" and "I can't look" during Wallenda's first few steps. A few minutes later, the crowd fell into a chant of "Wall-en-da."
The crowd calmed as people witnessed Wallenda chart a steady course on the wire. He moved slowly and methodically, dragging the tether he was forced to wear like a tired old dog.
ABC, which televised the walk, insisted he use the tether to keep from falling in the river. Wallenda agreed, he said, because he needed ABC's help offseting the stunt's $1.3 million cost.
Angela Janiszewski, who gripped her friend's hand throughout the walk, said she thought Wallenda might doff the harness over the falls. She was glad he didn't.
Susan Jacobbi, of Buffalo, said she felt nervous walking Wallenda walk, but her tension eased as he made his way across. She winced as he neared the center of the wire and said it seemed like the wind and mist were becoming more severe.
"He seems very calm at what he's doing," she said. "I think he's nervous, but he's making it look really easy."
Wallenda said after the walk: "It's all about the concentration and the focus. It all goes back to the training."
Wallenda jogged the final steps of the journey into Niagara Falls, Ont., where he was greeted by a Canadian Customs officer who asked for his passport. Wallenda presented the document.
His family, crew and spectators cheered as he stepped onto a scissor lift to thousands of camera flashes.
The Niagara Falls walk was unlike anything the 33-year-old father of three had ever done. Because it was over water, the 2-inch wire didn't have the usual stabilizer cables to keep it from swinging. Pendulum anchors were designed to keep it from twisting under his elkskin-soled shoes.
It took Wallenda two years to persuade U.S. and Canadian authorities to allow the walk, and many civic leaders hoped the publicity would jumpstart the region's struggling economy, particularly on the U.S. side of the falls.
Wallenda's family traces its roots to 1780 Austria-Hungary, when his ancestors traveled as a band of acrobats, aerialists, jugglers, animal trainers and trapeze artists. The clan has been touched by tragedy, notably in 1978 when patriarch Karl Wallenda fell to his death during a stunt in Puerto Rico.
Wallenda said that at one point in the middle of the walk he thought about his great-grandfather and the walks he had taken: "That's what this is all about, paying tribute to my ancestors, and my hero, Karl Wallenda."