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Can't get enough of Wallenda as fans show affection at mall

Nearly 1,000 people crammed into a hall of the Fashion Outlets here Sunday morning. Their eyes were lit. Their cameras and phones were held up in front of their faces. They squealed and murmured to one another in anticipation.

And then, suddenly, they broke into raging cheers once Nik Wallenda emerged through a side entrance.

Wallenda gave autographs to his large fan base at the mall before publicly accepting a ceremonial pen and copy of the bill that gave the daredevil permission to traverse the Niagara Gorge on a high wire, presented to him by Assemblyman Dennis H. Gabryszak, D-Cheektowaga.

The daredevil successfully walked 1,800 feet across the falls on a two-inch wire Friday night.

The legislation to allow Wallenda to cross the wire was signed by both Gabryszak and State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, and passed with a 149-1 majority vote. Gabryszak said that the Wallenda greatly boosted the economy of the area, and that Wallenda hopes to come back to Niagara Falls and create an exhibit featuring his walk, which would further benefit the city.

"And, I believe it, he's a man true to his word," Gabryszak said.

Wallenda said he hopes the museum will be successful and looks forward to returning to Niagara Falls.

"There's a piece of my heart here forever, for sure," he said.

Over the next five months, Wallenda said, he has plans for performances six days a week, before his next adventure a few years from now -- crossing the Grand Canyon on a high wire, for which he he already has obtained a permit.

But for the immediate future, Wallenda just wants a return to normalcy.

"I really just want to relax for a while; it's been so overwhelming," he said. With three children, he said, he wants to devote time to being a father.

Fans brought up everything from T-shirts to canvas paintings of the Falls for Wallenda to sign. Some brought composition notebooks, others the photographs they had taken Friday night. One fan, Rich Kephart of Niagara Falls, brought one of the vinyl signs welcoming Wallenda that hung from downtown street lamps all week.

"I've had people bring me certificates to where they were staying at hotels and private parties, to yearbooks to Bibles," Wallenda said after the signing.

The venue was so crowded that some people, upon reaching the table where Wallenda was giving autographs, were rushed out before they could get one.

"People were moving so quickly, I couldn't get one," said Carolyn Wright of Amherst, laughing. "But he's such a humble person, so grounded."

One family was able to snatch the 3-foot-tall cardboard sign announcing his arrival at the mall.

"We're going to hang it in our garage," said Michelle Aikin of Ransomville.

The family was too late in getting Wallenda's autograph, but was not the least bit disheartened.

"We plan on following him to the Grand Canyon," Aiken said.

Fans left happily, thrilled that they got the opportunity to meet the man whose feat two days ago inspired them so much.

"I'm 51 years old," said Barbara Catch of Niagara Falls, "and this man has given me a whole new lease on life."

email: meltagouri@buffnews.com