Niagara Gazette

July 18, 2013

GLYNN: Wallenda book: A rare mix of religion and politics

By DON GLYNN don.glynn@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — As readers might anticipate, Nik Wallenda’s new book about his career and famous family deals more with spiritual values and religion than the death-defying feats on the high wire.

“Balance: A Story of Faith, Family and Life on the Line” (Faith Words, 216 pages, hardcover, $22) delves deep into Wallenda’s  feelings about eternal salvation and his relationship with the Almighty. In fact, at times it might seem that you’re reading the memoirs of Trappist monk Thomas Merton (”Seven Storey Mountain”) or  televangelist Joel Osteen’s latest best seller. For the record, Faith Words is a major publisher of Christian books and Bibles.

Buried within the book — the second to last chapter — is the high wire artist’s June 2012 performance at Niagara Falls, when he walked the 1,800 feet from Terrapin Point above the Horseshoe Falls to the Table Rock area in Canada. A good deal of the chapter focuses on the way he was jerked around by the park commissions on both sides of the border, seeking permission to stroll across the Niagara Gorge.

It is common knowledge that Niagara Falls, Ont., Mayor Jim Diodati was a staunch booster of Wallenda’s proposal. The mayor went the extra mile to make certain that Nik made the right contacts in the often confusing permit process. In sharp contrast, the Niagara Parks Commission treated Wallenda (and his father) rudely when the pair attempted to explain their plan during a meeting. At one stage, the commission chair reportedly snarled, “You have one minute to wrap it up, Mr. Wallenda.” Wallenda’s father was offended when commission members called his son’s plan a stunt. “This is something our family has trained to do for over 200 years,” he shot back, “This isn’t crawling into a barrel and going over the edge of the falls. This is athleticism. This is artistry.”

As the for the U.S. side, the book doesn’t include a single reference to regional state parks boss Mark Thomas or his staff in the nation’s oldest state park. (That’s not surprising with the cold shoulder treatment the Albany-based parks agency first gave Wallenda.) Nor is Mayor Paul Dyster mentioned, probably because he insisted that Wallenda owed the city $25,000 to cover those security costs generated by the heavy influx of visitors.

Rather than singling out area people who helped lay the groundwork for the event, Wallenda simply listed them under the “Acknowledgements” in back of the book. They include Roger Trevino, Assemblyman John Ceretto, state Sen. George D. Maziarz, Rick Winter, Henry Wojtaszek and John Bartolomei, among others.

Despite all the political ballyhooing over how the event was pulled off, Wallenda’s walk over the Horseshoe Falls will have minimal impact on tourism here unless there is some kind of permanent exhibit (e.g. a museum featuring famous wire walks, etc.) because visitors want to see more than just the spot where the wire was stretched. It should be interesting to see who comes up with the dough too. Maybe Wallenda or some enterprising tourism operator will seek assistance from the county Industrial Development Agency? 

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LOSING FANS? It might be a shock to some die-hard loyalists but there’s some indication that baseball may be losing ground as our national pasttime. At least that’s the impression if you look at the number of visitors to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. In 2012, that number was about 260,000, the lowest attendance since the mid-1980s, according to a Wall Street Journal article this week. Some possible reasons listed by museum professionals: exhibits that should be more interactive; weak online presences; and imagine problems stemming from players’ use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Contact Reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.