By DON GLYNN
Niagara Gazette — Jay Cochrane was never allowed to walk on a tightrope across the famous falls of Niagara.
Although he proved numerous times that he had mastered the skills for such a daring performance, the park commissions on both sides of the border consistently rejected his request. "We've had a longstanding policy against any kind of stunting near the falls or along the gorge," said a former chairman of the Niagara Parks Commission.
For starters, high-wire walkers like Cochrane should never be mentioned in the same breath as daredevils, those who crawl into a barrel, a rubber ball or some other contraption to ride through unpredictable rapids over a 175-foot waterfalls. That's a daredevil, hoping to avoid the rocks below the thundering waterfall.
For nearly 30 years, Cochrane tried to convince the Niagara Parks Commission on the Canadian side that he could make the same kind of walk that Nik Wallenda did in 2012. The difference, of course, was that Cochrane lacked the political clout that Wallenda carried when he approached the park agencies for permission. In the end, the park commissions at the state level (Albany) and at the provincial (Toronto) were ordered to get their act together. Prepare for the Wallenda walk, whether they liked it or not. The local parks commissions had about as much voice in the matter as a branch bank manager trying to deal with the Federal Reserve.
Cochrane's record matched Wallenda's virtually every step of the way. In fact, at a glance his feats were often even more stunning, from walking 2,098 feet on a wire, some 1,340 feet above the Yangtze River in China (with 200,000 spectators at the site and 500 million more on China TV); walking between the 50-story Hudson Bay Towers in Toronto; walking over the Arch in St. Louis, Mo., between two cranes 1,800 feet apart; walking 2,000 feet on a wire, at a height of 400 feet, from the top of the Sports Coliseum to the Space Needle in Hershey, Pa.(1994), to name a few.
Closer to the Niagara area, where he dreamed of making that gorge crossing, Cochrane became a familiar figure to thousands of summer visitors for his "Skylon Tower Skywalk," starting atop the 364-foot high Niagara Falls Casino, traversing 1,250 feet, and finishing atop the 520-foot Skylon Tower. He also was an added attraction in 2005 with his popular "Niagara Casino to Hilton Skywalk in Niagara Falls. Ont.
Cochrane, 69, lost his battle with cancer on Wednesday in the border city where he performed for years.
"He was a true entertainer and won the world over with his talent and exceptional skill," said Niagara Falls, Ont., Mayor Jim Diodati. "He will always be missed and be forever in the hearts of the millions of people who saw his performances." Diodati added: "Perhaps most notable was his consummate generosity and the significant donations that he raised and donated to children's charities."
Imagine what he would have done with political muscle.
TRIVIA QUIZ: (Answer to Sunday question) Hiram Sibley founded the Western Union company in Rochester in 1851.
OVERHEARD in McDonald's Restaurant in the City Market: "Why is Gov. Cuomo sticking his nose into local politics, like endorsing candidates for Niagara Falls City Council? Next thing you know, Obama will tell us where to go for a colonoscopy."Contact Reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.