Have you ever wondered why a person would ever want to become a stunt man, lion tamer, or any of the other vocations which deliberately involve the risk of death?
I have. It seems that danger attracts a certain kind of human being with a strange and compelling irresistibility.
There is a story of a little boy who accidentally went over Niagara Falls wearing nothing but his clothes and miraculously was rescued at the bottom alive. Niagara Falls has always had a strange fascination for death defiers. In Frelin Foster’s “Keep Up With The World,” he points out that before they were banned, death-defying stunts were attempted at Niagara Falls by at least 31 people. Seven of whom were killed, while the others succeeded or were rescued — four of the twenty who died either tried to swim or pass through the rapids in small boats. Four of them were in barrels and one in a rubber ball, and one of the six attempted to walk a tightrope over the gorge.
Of those who succeeded, none achieved fame and fortune except Charles Blondin, the tightrope walker, who was the first to risk his life at Niagara in 1859. During that summer and again in 1860, this French acrobat gave several performances on a 1,100-foot rope, three inches thick in diameter, stretched from the American to the Canadian side, 160 feet above the dangerous waters. Balancing himself with a 50-pound pole and watched by thousands of spectators, who on one occasion exceeded 300,000, Blondin staged a series of stunts that, for sheer courage, have never been equaled.
Besides running, walking backward and having his feet enclosed in a sack or baskets, he would walk on stilts or, while blindfolded, cross the rope pushing a wheelbarrow. Once he carried over on his back a man, who trembled so much that Blondin never tried it again. In the middle of the rope, he would also turn somersaults, and hold out his hat and have a man, in a boat below, shoot bullet holes in it. Once or twice he carried out a stove, pan an egg and cooked himself an omelet. Illuminated by locomotive headlights, Blondin would sometimes walk out on the rope at night and, after the lights had been extinguished at his signal, finish his crossing in pitch darkness.
Quite a character and you have to remember that people would still be doing things like that if they hadn’t been made illegal.
It seems that since
death has always been a mystery to man, and he tends to fear it, but he likes to watch people who gamble with it.
Let a man walk out on the ledge of a skyscraper with the apparent purpose of jumping, and you’ll soon have a traffic jam with as many people as the annual Fourth of July picnic. However, a good percentage of people would not watch something like this for anything in the world. An unfortunate automobile accident will attract a particular type of individual, while others have no desire to see anything of this kind at all.
Now, do you think all those spectators of Blondin’s walks over Niagara Falls were there to witness, a clever balancing act?
Or do you think they were there in the hope or the possibility of his plunging to his death? Interesting question!
There was another character who crossed and re-crossed a wire 490 feet long, stretched between two alpine peaks over a ravine 9,000 feet deep. Why? What’s your opinion?