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Crowd excited to watch history in the making; Festive atmosphere livens Terrapin Point

Melissa Brydges and her daughter Elizabeth Brydges came from Orchard Park to watch history happen before their eyes.

The two were among the first in line to get to Terrapin Point on Goat Island to snag a prime spot where they could watch Nik Wallenda become the first person to walk across Niagara Falls in over a century. Four thousand people are being allowed onto the island to see the event.

The women lugged folding chairs and blankets to make their evening wait for Wallenda's appearance more comfortable.

"We wanted to see Nik Wallenda make history," said Melissa Brydges. "My mother used to talk to me about the Flying Wallendas when I was little."

"This is so exciting that we get to be here," said Elizabeth Brydges. "I didn't realize it was going to be such a national event."

As evening approached, police cleared Terrapin Point, the closest spot on the American side to the walk, of the few remaining tourists and secured the pathways with long metal gates.

Five costumed historical characters from Encounter Niagara Tours, who mixed with tourists in the state park, were among the last to leave Terrapin Point.

Dressed in authentic historical garb were Christopher Russell, portraying Father Lewis Hennepin, who discovered the falls; Peter Green, as Augustus Porter, one of the earliest settlers of the region; Aaron Rath as inventor Nicolai Tesla; Anne-Marie Konecki as wire-walker Signorina Maria Speltorini; Kathleen Ordiway as Annie Edson Taylor, the first to go over the falls in a barrel; Madeline Green, 9, as Celinda Eliza Whitney, one of the girls for whom Three Sisters Island is named.

"People are delighted to see us and talk to us," Ordiway said.

In the meantime, several hundred people formed orderly lines behind three checkpoints through which all wristband-wearers had to pass to get into Terrapin Point.

When the gates swung open at 6 p.m., hundreds of people with wristbands filed past a security table where they opened their bags for examination and dumped any food or drinks. Inside the fenced-off area, Delaware North concession booths sold hot dogs for $5, hamburgers for $6 and bottles of water or soda for $3.

Everyone was required to open their bags, and people could be seen drinking the last of their water or giving away unopened bottles to those who did not have wristbands.

One woman, irate that she would not be allowed to bring a cooler to Terrapin Point, stormed away from the checkpoint saying she had no car nearby to put the cooler in. But for the most part, viewers were excited and happy to take their spot to see Wallenda's walk.

The first person in one of the three lines was Mark Callen of Williamsville, a professional photographer who said he had arrived at the park at 9 a.m. to scout out spots where he could shoot photos. Callen said he scouted out the sloping topography of Terrapin Point, which allows plenty of unobstructed seating on a grassy hillside, before taking his place at the spot where the line would form at about 4 p.m., an hour before police cleared Prospect Point.

"I want to be toward the top of the area," Callen said. "If you're too close, you're not going to be able to see enough of the backdrop of the falls."

Wallenda's wire is rigged with about a third of it over the land at Prospect Point and the upper rapids of the river. The wire crosses the brink of the falls very close to the edge of Terrapin Point, then veers across the lower river toward the Canadian side. It does not cross the falls again after leaving the brink near Terrapin Point.

Earlier in the day, State Parks Police Lt. Patrick Moriarty noted that traffic was flowing smoothly and prime parking spaces on Goat Island were still available as late as 4 p.m.

"We think people may have taken our advice and planned their routes, where they would park," said Moriarty, who noted that the parking lots of some closed downtown businesses had opened to accommodate the crowd.

email: aneville@buffnews.com