NIAGARA FALLS – The tethered steps that Nik Wallenda took on a mist-drenched, 2-inch steel cable across Niagara Falls more than two years ago gave the former honeymoon capital of the world a chance to reclaim a moment in the spotlight.
But that 26-minute walk before a television audience of more than 10 million also catapulted the daredevil to global fame.
Last year, he got the chance to walk untethered across a gorge near the Grand Canyon. Later this year, he plans to stride across the top of the Chicago skyline.
Wallenda’s June 15, 2012, walk from the U.S. to the Canadian side of the falls was remembered Monday with the official unveiling of a monument on Goat Island in Niagara Falls State Park.
A 4½-foot-high limestone and bronze monument has a piece of the cable used in Wallenda’s feat affixed to the top. The marker sits overlooking Terrapin Point and the Horseshoe Falls, about 25 yards from where the wire he walked across was strung.
The famed aerialist called it a “huge honor” to have a monument at the falls, a place he said he visited at age 4 when his parents were performing at the Shrine Circus in Buffalo. Even at that age, he said, he dreamed of crossing the falls.
The Wallenda family, long famous for its aerial stunts, is well-documented in books and on film, he said. “But that ‘Nik’ part of Wallenda,” he said, “this is definitely what put ‘Nik’ of Nik Wallenda on the map.”
At Monday’s ceremony, the daredevil was eager to describe what the Niagara Falls walk has done for his career.
“It’s been huge, absolutely. There’s no question whatsoever,” Wallenda said. “When you can do something like this and get the support of so many politicians behind you to do something that no one in the world has ever done before – absolutely, extremely instrumental in my career.”
Wallenda actually got permission to perform near the Grand Canyon in the Little Colorado River Navajo Tribal Park before the Falls walk took place, he said. But it made more sense to do the walk in the Falls first because there were businesses close by willing to sponsor it. For the gorge walk out west, there were no such sponsors.
The wire-walk over the falls paved the way for the walk in Arizona. “This did make that happen,” Wallenda said.
On a number of trips back to Western New York, Wallenda’s always had kind things to say about what the region means to him and what it’s done for him. He reiterated those points again Monday.
“Trust me, my heart will always be here because this was the walk,” Wallenda said.
Wallenda, 35, is spending the summer in Western New York, with a 10-week residency at the Darien Lake amusement park running through the end of August.
On Aug. 10, Wallenda will walk over the Erie County Fair in Hamburg. He’ll be 125 feet above the ground for his 1,400-foot walk, which is almost twice the length he typically walks.
The concept for the monument was designed by Jack Glennie, a state parks employee who works in the visitors center and who worked as a commercial artist and animator for about 20 years. The design was the first of six he created and which were sent to Albany for review, Glennie said.
The limestone came from the state park area, with the bronze plaque containing an image from a photograph taken by James P. McCoy, a Buffalo News photographer. Wagner Monuments of Cheektowaga constructed the marker, which weighs approximately two tons.
Niagara Falls, Ont., Mayor James M. Diodati, who attended Monday’s ceremony, said that “something memorable” to commemorate Wallenda’s walk on the Canadian side has been in development and remains a “work in progress.”
In terms of a long-discussed permanent Wallenda attraction in the Falls, Wallenda said talks are continuing. “We believe it will happen in due time,” he said.
Wallenda also said that in the next month, he expects to announce the date and more details about his walk later this year in Chicago. That walk will happen sometime in the last three months of the year, he said, adding that it will be atop the Windy City’s skyline “with a Nik Wallenda twist.”