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Flying Wallendas to build pyramid on Detroit high wire


Stunt ended in 2 deaths in 1962 in same arena

March 6, 1998
Web posted at: 4:56 p.m. EST (2156 GMT)

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

The family high-wire act will be attempting to build a seven-person pyramid, in which four members on one layer use poles to support two on a second layer who in turn support one on a top layer. The whole pyramid then moves across a high wire, 25 feet above the ground, without a net.

The maneuver was once a trademark of the Wallendas. But in 1962, in the State Fair Coliseum in Detroit, one man in the pyramid lost his footing. It collapsed, and three men fell to the ground. Two were killed. One was paralyzed.

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

The Flying Wallendas preview their seven person pyramid
video icon 2.5M/28 sec./320x240
1M/28 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.

In that dress rehearsal, the pyramid went off without a hitch. As family members safely reached the other side, the relief was evident -- not only from the Wallendas but from the spectators.

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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