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Wallendas' famed pyramid flies again


Stunt that met tragic end in 1962 goes off without hitch

March 6, 1998
Web posted at: 11:20 p.m. EST (0420 GMT)

DETROIT (CNN) -- More than three decades after a spectacular circus stunt ended in tragedy, the famed Flying Wallendas Friday night succeeded with the same maneuver in the very same arena where two members of the troop once plunged to their deaths.

The family high-wire act built a seven-person pyramid, in which four members on one layer used poles to support two on a second layer who in turn supported a woman sitting in a chair on top.

The whole pyramid then moved across a high wire, 25 feet above the ground, without a net. Then, it paused in the middle, so the woman in the chair could stand up.

Audience members, who were cautioned to be quiet during the maneuver so the Wallendas could hear each other's commands, broke out in thunderous applause when the acrobats reached the other side.

vxtreme The Wallendas' seven-person pyramid

The maneuver was once a trademark of the Wallendas. But in 1962, in the State Fair Coliseum in Detroit, an accident occurred when one man in the pyramid lost his footing. Two of the acrobats fell to their deaths and one was paralyzed.

Since the disaster, the Wallendas have only performed the stunt twice. But they hadn't performed it in the last 21 years, and they hadn't tried it again in Detroit.

The Flying Wallendas show us their seven person pyramid
video icon 2.0 M / 37 sec./240x180
1.3 M / 37 sec./160x120
QuickTime movie

"My children will show you [that] they will finish what we started to do the last time we were in Detroit," said family matriarch Jenny Wallenda at a preview performance Thursday for the media and a small number of guests.

The man paralyzed in that accident, Mario Wallenda, was on hand to witness Friday's triumph.

The Wallendas are scheduled to perform the pyramid 38 times during the 17-day run of the Shrine Circus in Detroit.

Detroit Bureau Chief Ed Garsten contributed to this report.


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