Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

June 24, 2013

A wild and crazy guy

By Dick Platt
Corsicana Daily Sun

— Sarasota has two family clans from the circus world who are a part of the culture and history of the city. The first clan is the descendants of Charles Ringling, one of the brothers  who owned the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. He, and his wife Edith settled here and bought and developed gobs of the area around Sarasota Bay. As a result, there are estates, boulevards, bridges, museums, and educational facilities that bear the name, Ringling.

The second circus clan home-based here is the descendants of Karl Wallenda and the “Flying Wallendas” whose high-wire exploits have been on display all over the world. Over the years, several members of the family have been lost while training or performing, including the famous collapse of their “7-person pyramid” back in 1962.

Nik Wallenda is an absolute hero around this town. He is the great-grandson of Karl and has carried on the family daredevil tradition in spectacular fashion. He has performed all over the world high atop buildings, harbors, and theme parks. In 2012, he wire-walked over Niagara Falls and, in February of this year, he tippy-toed over a 600-foot-long wire strung 200 feet above downtown Sarasota.

Now, this wild and crazy guy, is preparing to walk a 1,400-foot cable across the Grand Canyon. They say the canyon, at this point is deep enough to hide Chicago’s Sears Tower in it. Conditions will be really ugly with wind currents, updrafts, and average temperatures in the canyon of 105 degrees or better. Even the name of the location for the stunt is ugly — Hellhole Bend, Ariz.

He has been practicing twice a day, rain or shine, on a high wire at a park here in Sarasota. Even these practices have been drawing 25,000 to 30,000 spectators. The actual walk is scheduled for Sunday, June 23 (tomorrow as I write this) and will be televised around the world by The Discovery Channel with a possible viewing audience of a billion people. I don’t know if I will be able to bear to watch — it just scares the boogers out of me to think about it.

All this kind of reminds me of goofy Evel Knievel’s lame-brained attempt to jump a steam-powered rocket called “Skycycle X-2” over the Snake River Canyon in Idaho back in 1974. There was some good news and bad news about that stunt. The good news is he did reach the other side. The bad news is that his drag chute deployed too soon, the wind caught it, and he drifted all the way back to the starting side of the canyon. He was lucky to walk away from that one with bumps and bruises because, if he had splashed down in the water, he probably would have drowned before he could get out of the harness and equipment. You have got to love Evel!

There is a stark difference between these two daredevils. Nik Wallenda demands perfection in all his stunts and personifies “...the thrill of victory...” Evel Knievel, on the other hand personified “...the agony of defeat...”

Many of Evel’s spectacular stunts ended up in spectacular crashes like the one in 1967 when he jumped his motorcycle 151 feet over the fountains at Caesar’s Palace. He had at least 15 major operations on his skull, pelvis, ribs, collarbone, shoulders, and hips. He had titanium hips, aluminum plates in his arms, and many pins holding his arms and other bones together. By his own account he was “...nothing but scar tissue and surgical steel...” He had so many accidents, he occasionally broke some of his metal parts too.

Evel’s whole world revolved around danger, star-spangled costumes, and motorcycles. One time, he pulled into a biker diner in Boulder, Colo., sat down at a counter stool, and ordered “two headlights and two wheels.” The waitress was new and in a bad mood and told him she had no idea what he was talking about. Evel told her, “Just tell the cook what I ordered and he’ll know what “two headlights and two wheels” are. She testily yelled the order back into the kitchen and the cook yelled back, “Coming right up!”

Turn’s out the order is for two eggs sunny side up and two pancakes. The waitress, who’s attitude had not improved, brings the breakfast plate out and slams it down in front of old Evel. Then she also plops down a big bowl of chili beans alongside the eggs and pancakes. “What the hell is this for?” asks Evel, “I didn’t order any chili.” The waitress snaps back, “I just thought you might want to gas up before you get out of here!”

See ya...and God speed to Nik


Editor’s Note: Wallenda successfully completed his wire-walk across the Grand Canyon Sunday.


Dick Platt is a Daily Sun columnist. His column appears on Tuesdays. Want to “Soundoff” on this column? Email: