Tonawanda News — After all the haggling, all the pleading, all the pronouncements and predictions, Nik Wallenda’s walk actually lived up to the hype.
The pictures of Wallenda flying above the falls were truly incredible. The images broadcast live to the nation offered those residents here, who can go see them any time they wish, a reminder that we do live in a special place. We have a real wonder in our backyard, a place people the world over dream of seeing for themselves.
That’s something worth noting. We take the thundering Niagara for granted here, but to much of the world it remains iconic, an awe-inspiring example of nature’s majesty — one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
It’s rather odd, but I have no recollection of the first time I went to see Niagara Falls. We went there several times as a child for various occasions. I’ve ridden the Maid of the Mist, though not in the last 20 years or so. Most of my friends are from Western New York, so I have relatively few excuses to go there myself. No doubt, I’ve seen the falls on TV far more times than I’ve seen them in person. As B-roll during Bills games and the backdrop for any number of press conferences, the falls seem smaller than they are.
That’s what struck me most about Wallenda’s incredible feat. Never before have we had a real frame of reference for just how powerful Niagara Falls is. He just looked so small up there on that wire, the white water crushing beneath him, the mist enveloping what seemed surely to be a plastic action figurine.
In the wake of that sight, sitting here the day after Wallenda’s historic walk, things still feel very much the same. Niagara Falls is still Niagara Falls: a deeply troubled city brought to its knees by corruption, mismanagement, crime and poverty.
No stuntman can fix problems that have been generations in the making.
Master satirist Stephen Colbert put it rather succinctly: “You know you’re in bad shape when you have to create a tourist attraction to attract tourists to your tourist attraction.”
As it should have been, the emphasis was on Wallenda and the cataract itself during ABC’s broadcast. But what would the world have seen if they had turned the cameras around? Past the throng of fans and into the city proper, they would have found a much different story.
Falls Mayor Paul Dyster was on Channel 7 after the event, glowing with pride after the walk went off without a hitch. And the event was a smashing success.
But with the TV crews gone and Wallenda poised to put the Falls in his rearview mirror as he plans his next stunt, what legacy is left? Millions of people were reminded that Niagara Falls still exists, that it is still magnificent. Perhaps they will plan a visit.
And when they come?
They’ll see the Indian casino They’ll walk through a state park that the state has promised, once again, to clean up.
And then they’ll go to Canada for the rest of their trip.
If Nik Wallenda’s walk accomplishes anything for the city of Niagara Falls, we have to hope that it serves as a call to action for our leaders and citizens alike. Basking in the glow of one incredible night is fine. But next week, we can’t let it get back to normal.
Wallenda delivered on his promise. His was a stunt of a lifetime. But if it is to have any real meaning, it must be looked at as a turning point for this beleaguered place.
Otherwise it will become yet another in a long line of gimmicks, the memory for which is very short.
Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. His column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.