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is the day that Karl Wallenda's great-grandson Nik will
stroll across a gorge near the Grand Canyon on a cable, safely we
hope, it's the perfect time to recall that Karl walked
across the top of Atlanta Stadium in 1972 between the
games of a doubleheader. Atlanta Braves' promotions
director Bob Hope wrote a superb book in the early 90s
recalling the zany stunts the Braves employed with great
regularity in the 1970s in an attempt to fill seats at the
ballpark. The following is an excerpt from his book
We Could Have Finished Last Without You.
"The Braves games were the perfect setting for anything we
wanted to do. We paid the legendary wire-walker Karl
Wallenda $3,000 to walk his wire across the top of the
stadium between games of a doubleheader. The stunt
was the most amazing I could imagine. Basically, the
Great Wallenda, as he was called by those who follow
wire-walking, drove into town with all his equipment in
the back of a truck. He, his niece, and a couple of
other family members strung the wire (actually a cable)
across the very top of the stadium, spanning over first
and third base from the stadium light towers, more than
three hundred feet across. Wallenda was in his
seventies (the article below says 67 - ATM) but he
worked the entire day prior to the walk putting up the
In fact, the night before his performance Wallenda was so
tired that he fell asleep during the game on a sofa in the
press lounge adjacent to the press box. Dozing off
is likely what any seventy-year-old man who had just been
through a day of hard labor might do. But he had
taken a few drinks, and rumor swept through the press box
that he passed out drunk. The old man, so they
thought, was in a stupor, and the next day I was paying
him to walk a long thin wire a hundred feet above the
ground in a stadium full of people, many of them kids (the
article below says 600 feet above the ground - ATM).
Everyone assured me he would fall and kill himself in
front of all those people. And, of course, it would
be my fault.
Perplexed, I decided to climb into the lights of the
stadium and try to comprehend what Wallenda had in front
of him the next day. I wanted to take a close look
at the wire Wallenda would have between him and the
ground. I'll always remember the moment I stood at
the edge of the wire and looked down on the field and
crowd below. I tried to imagine what it would take
to make him take that first step out onto the wire.
The ball game was going on below, and the players looked
like little bugs moving around. The crowd was a mass
of blurry spots. It was terrifying. No way
this could be done.
During the first game of the doubleheader the next day,
Ted Turner called me to join him in the seats next to the
dugout. "I know winds," Ted said in an obvious
reference to his sailing, "and these are the most
dangerous kinds. Cancel the old man's walk.
Tell him it's too risky."
I tried to talk Wallenda out of walking, but his
reputation was at stake. Circus performers are
legendary for their determination that "the show must go
The whole scenario of the Wallenda walk was deadly.
At the end of the first game of the doubleheader, every
able-bodied ground-crew member and stadium usher was on
the field. They faced each other in two lines
parallel to Wallenda's cable, and each one was given the
end of one of the many ropes attached to the cable.
Each man wrapped his rope-end around his waist twice and
knotted it in front, then leaned backward to provide
enough tension to keep the cable steady. No one
could slip, they were told, or the Great Wallenda would
"Oh, God," I thought to myself, "I've finally killed
someone. I've gone too far."
Wallenda, looking every bit his age, stepped onto the
cable. The crowd gasped as he walked slowly, holding
onto a long balance pole, crossing the stadium a step at a
time. Every few steps he would stop and look like he
might be stumbling or losing his balance. He would
yell instructions down to the ground. But by the
mid-point of his walk, I could tell this guy knew what he
was doing. On closer look, the uncertain steps
looked more act than accident. And in twelve minutes
flat, he was all the way across, safe on the other side.
He was an amazing man. Performance was his life, and
after that first frightful performance, I had him back to
repeat several times."
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