THE FLYING WALLENDAS Biography - Other artists & entretainers


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The Flying Wallendas is the name of a famous group of circus act and daredevil     
stunts performers, most known for performing death-defying stunts without a         
safety net. They were first known as The Great Wallendas, but the current name     
was coined by the press in the 40s and has stayed since. The name in their         
native German, "Die fliegenden Wallenda", is an obvious rhyme on the title of       
the Wagner opera, "Der fliegende Holländer" ("The Flying Dutchman").               
Karl Wallenda was born in Magdeburg, Germany in 1905 to an old circus family,       
and began performing at the age of 6. While still in his teens he answered an ad   
for a hand balancer with courage. His employer, Louis Weitzman, taught him the     
trade. In 1922 Karl put together his own act with his brother Herman, Joseph       
Geiger, and a teenage girl, Helen Kreis, who eventually became his wife.           
The act toured Europe for several years, performing some amazing stunts. When       
John Ringling saw them perform in Cuba, he quickly hired them to perform at the     
Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. In 1928, they debuted at the       
Madison Square Garden. The act performed without a net (it had been lost in         
transit) and the crowd gave them a standing ovation.                               
It was at a performance in Akron, Ohio that the group all fell in the wire, but     
were unhurt. The next day, a reporter who witnessed the accident stated in the     
newspaper, "The Wallendas fell so gracefully that it seemed as if they were         
flying", coining the name of The Flying Wallendas.                                 
In 1944, while performing in Hartford, Connecticut, a fire started that ended up   
killing over 168 people (see Hartford Circus Fire). None of the group was hurt.     
In the following years, Karl developed some of the most amazing acts like the       
seven-person chair pyramid. They continued performing those acts until 1962.       
That year, while performing at Detroit, Michigan, the front man on the wire         
faltered and the pyramid collapsed. Three men fell to the ground, killing two of   
them (Richard Faughnan, Wallenda's son-in-law, and nephew Dieter Schepp). Karl     
injured his pelvis, and his adopted son, Mario, was paralyzed from the waist       
Other tragedies include when Wallenda's sister-in-law, Rietta, fell to her death   
in 1963, and his son-in-law Richard ("Chico") Guzman was killed in 1972 after       
touching a live wire in the rigging. Nonetheless, Karl decided to go on. He         
repeated the pyramid act in 1963 and 1977. Karl continued performing with a         
smaller group, and doing solo acts.                                                 
On March 22, 1978, during a promotional walk in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Karl         
Wallenda fell from the wire and died. He was 73 at the time.                       
There are several branches of the Wallendas performing today, comprising mostly     
grandchildren of Karl Wallenda. They still perform regularly and have achieved     
recognition in the Guinness Book of Records.