When I was 5, I attended a circus where one of the Flying Wallendas fell to his death. Another 5 year old, a girl I didn’t know but whom I would meet and marry many years later, was there, too.
Mary and I don’t remember a lot from that night at Wheeling Island Stadium, only bits of images and emotion. I do remember an electric flash and a gasping crowd. I also remember being hustled out of the stadium by my subdued parents.
Mary remembers being disappointed that the circus was over, but didn’t really understand what was going on. And both of us recall the confused heaviness of the moment.
It all comes to mind with Nik Wallenda attempting a crossing of Niagara Falls tonight on national TV. The show told a bit of the history of the Wallendas and mentioned the well-known tragedy in Detroit, but the death in Wheeling wasn’t mentioned. I’m not sure I wanted them to bring it up.
This is the AP story I could find via Google News:
‘Flying Wallenda’ falls to his death
WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) — Richard Guzman, a member of the famed “Flying Wallendas” high wire troupe, fell to his death before an opening night circus crowd here Friday night.
Guzman, 29, a son-in-law of the troupe’s founder Karl Wallenda, apparently contacted a live electrical wire while climbing a pole during the family’s act and fell 60 feet to the ground, police said.
It was the second time Wallenda had watched a member of his family die in the aerial act. Two members of the troupe, including Wallenda’s nephew Dieter Schepp, were killed in Detroit in 1962 when their seven-man pyramid collapsed. Mario Wallenda, Karl’s adopted son, was permanently paralyzed in that accident.
Wallenda, 67, was walking a wire across the Wheeling Island Stadium when the accident took place Friday (July 28, 1972) and had to continue his walk after seeing his son-in-law fall.
A reserve policeman, Harry Croft, rushed to break Guzman’s fall and was slightly injured when Guzman fell on him, police said.
Guzman, who was married to Karl’s daughter Carla, was not breathing and had no heartbeat when officials reached him. His breathing was restored by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation administered by a registered nurse who was in the audience, but Guzman died a few hours later at a Wheeling hospital.
Officials said the cause of death was tentatively listed as head injuries.
The family was performing in the Osiris Shrine Circus here.