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Wallenda awes spectators with his daring aerial feat and down-to-earth nature

Nik Wallenda wire-walked into history at Niagara Falls on Friday, but the effects quickly rippled around the world.

"As far as feats of derring-do go, they don't get much more primal or more terrifying," wrote the Guardian of England.

Wallenda hovered over the gorge like a "latter-day Moses," said the New York Times.

"Would you come to Australia?" beamed a reporter from The Australian newspaper.

But for all the history and awe Wallenda captured, people here were impressed that – on the biggest stage of his life – Wallenda seemed to act like, well, one of us.

"What I originally thought, he was totally different," said Mike Janiga of Elma. "His personality was excellent."

"I like him," added Molly Oshei of Buffalo. "He's not full of himself – he's a nice, young man."

[GALLERY: Nik Wallenda walks high wire over Niagara Falls]

Wallenda on Saturday told The Buffalo News he had "goose bumps" knowing he had won over even the skeptics with his down-to-earth nature and authenticity.

He also said he wants to become a permanent part of the Niagara Falls scene – mentioning historical plaques on both sides of the border and a long-term Wallenda exhibit near the falls.

"There will always be a piece of my heart in Niagara Falls," Wallenda told The News. "I'm a sincere person, and I wasn't saying that to get permission. The truth is, I do see a future here and hope to have a show in this area and hope to spend more time here."

To drive home that point, Wallenda on Saturday grabbed a shovel and began the dirty work of filling the 4-foot-deep hole at Niagara Falls State Park where his cable was anchored.

"It's just something that has to be done," he said. "I'm not scared of working."

Once the cameras were shut off, Wallenda walked around the park, picked up cigarette butts and tried to make sure the piles of trash left by media staffers were cleaned up.

Maybe the garbage was from a celebration – after all, the prime-time stunt attracted 13.1 million viewers, making it the highest-rated nonsports telecast on the major networks in six years.

A parks staffer at a Saturday signing event said that media from China, Korea, Germany, Great Britain, France, the United States and Australia had been covering the event.

Viewers in Western New York said Saturday they were impressed with how calm Wallenda acted on the wire. He chatted with his father, took questions from an ABC-TV reporter and constantly prayed.

"Great, great, amazing, wonderful," said David Orr, a resident of Altoona, Pa., who was wearing a black "Nik Wallenda" T-shirt as he stood in line to shake Wallenda's hand Saturday at a restaurant near the falls.

"I just wish I didn't have to wear that tether," said Wallenda to Orr, as he signed an autograph.

Wallenda felt like a "jackass" for wearing the tether, he told his father on the air. He said Saturday he initially felt bad about the remark before realizing it was, well, true.

"I've always said I'm real," Wallenda said. "But that was honest, that's me. You get what you see."

Wallenda even won over Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster, who was initially reluctant to promote the stunt because of environmental concerns.

Saturday, Dyster presented Wallenda the key to the city and said the state may elect to build a permanent marker on Goat Island noting Wallenda's feat. He also said officials in Niagara Falls, Ont., and Niagara Falls, N.Y., have begun talks about a cross-border daredevil festival to happen each year.

Wallenda's sunny personality made a difference, the mayor said, and distinguished him from other Niagara daredevils.

"The way he's been conducting himself since he's been in Niagara Falls has won him a lot of friends," Dyster said. "He makes a good first impression, and the second time you talk to him it seems like you've been friends for a long time."

Earlier Saturday, Wallenda met with crowds of fans on the terrace of a restaurant overlooking the Canadian side of the falls. The Canadians also presented him with permanent plaques to be erected near the end of his historic walk.

Patel Pravinkumar of Toronto stood in line to have a speeding ticket signed by the world-famous funambulist.

Why a speeding ticket?

Because he got the ticket at 8:35 p.m. Friday, while speeding down the QEW on his way to see Wallenda walk.

Wallenda signed the ticket with these words: "It's all my fault! Nik Wallenda."

To Pravinkumar, the ticket was worth the excitement of seeing Wallenda perform.

"Millions and millions of people will know him now, throughout the whole world," Pravinkumar said.

Particularly impressive was Wallenda's personality, he said.

"He's so humble," Pravinkumar said.

Manjula Hathi, a Buffalo resident, said that she viewed Wallenda's accomplishment, which she and her husband watched, as a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

"For me, a 78-year-old lady, I don't think I'll see something like that in my life again," Hathi said.

"Did you watch it? Awesome, wasn't it?" a customs agent asked a reporter crossing into Canada. "I'm watching and thinking, 'I can't quit smoking, and he's walking over Niagara Falls!' "

Wallenda said he knows that people throughout this region now feel emotionally connected to him.

That feeling is mutual, he said.

And what about those people in Western New York and Ontario – surely more than a few – who now feel affection for Wallenda, and want him to be happy with the success of this stunt, and not attempt any future walks?

"It's kind of built into me," he said. "I can't let it go."

But he already knows how he feels about ever walking over the brink of the falls again.

"No. That's not really my thing," he said, of a repeat engagement. "I've done it. It's done."

Wallenda posed with kids and senior citizens, young women and tourism officials, as he sipped water from a bottle and occasionally checked his phone for messages. When one baby fussed after being placed in his arms, Wallenda gave the baby his cellphone to play with.

The result: immediate smile.

That's Wallenda.

"I want people to like me, just for who I am," he said. "What you get is a regular person. I want people to relate to me."

After he leaves Western New York early this week, he will almost immediately take advantage of the worldwide fame from his legendary stunt – first with his "Danger by Design" TV show at 9 p.m. Monday on the Discovery Science channel, then with a show in Branson, Mo. – and, eventually, with a walk across the Grand Canyon.

Niagara, though, will remain a central part of his act.

Wallenda envisions a traveling show that would feature some aspect of his Niagara Falls walk at different outposts across the globe.

The tour would return to Niagara Falls each summer, possibly at some sort of yet-to-be-built museum near the falls that would showcase the family's history and feature live performances from Nik, his wife, Erendira, and other members of the troupe.

And the museum might actually be built on the American side.

"He cares about the area, and it has been beaten up pretty bad economically over the last 30 years, and he'd like to see it come back," said Wallenda's father, Terry Troffer.

"We love the area; we fell in love with it."

Wallenda's plan all along was to inspire people, he said – to make this city see itself for what it could be.

"I was signing autographs, and a woman came up and started crying," Wallenda said. "And I started to tear up."

"It's been an extremely huge honor to be a part of this city," he added. "Thank you for all of your support, all of your energy, all of your interest that was put into this event. Undoubtably, I will be a part of this city forever."