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Wallenda Notebook / The falls wire-walk

Those getting off the Robert Moses State Parkway on Friday may have noticed several people holding signs for parking. That trend continued as motorists got near Old Falls Street. And the prices only increased, closer to the location of Nik Wallenda's walk.

Although finding parking wasn't a problem in the late morning Friday, paying for a spot became quite an investment for some. Attendants were asking people for up to $75 to park until 2 a.m. in the lots surrounding Old Falls Street. Meanwhile, parking was available in the public ramp for $10.

Later in the afternoon, a couple of lot attendants near the festival were asking for $25 to park. But it was too late for some at that point.

Lindsay Tomaino was selling T-shirts for $15 to $20 on Rainbow Boulevard before the Old Falls Street intersection. But Tomaino and the two other people she was selling the Wallenda merchandise with had to pay $50 to park in the lot nearest the festival.


Business lesson

The Nik Wallenda walk created opportunity for more than just Niagara Falls on Friday. It also gave 19-year-old Mark Pelsone a chance to put his business skills to use.

Pelsone, of Niagara Falls, is studying business at Niagara County Community College and set up a stand along Rainbow Boulevard before the intersection of Old Falls Street. He sold water and soda for $2, below some of the prices found inside the festival. Pelsone planned to stay there into the night as he was also selling glow sticks.

And as a young business student, Pelsone recognizes the opportunity the daredevil creates for his hometown.

"I think it's cool, like it never happens," he said. "It's something different. Niagara Falls needs something because nothing usually goes on here."

But businesses also incur expenses. Vendors that set up before the Old Falls Street and Rainbow Boulevard intersection had to pay $150 for a permit to sell goods. And to set up on Old Falls Street, a $200 fee had to be paid.


Test of stamina

Although many had yet to filter on to Old Falls Street by 2 p.m., aerialist Erica Cope was hanging several feet above the hard concrete performing acrobatics involving silk.

"I've been doing it for a couple hours, so my stamina is getting pretty low," said the 30-year-old Buffalo resident.

Ashley Vita Verde and guest aerialists, including Cope, performed acrobatics involving silks, hammock, rope and hoops.


Break dance fever

Temperatures were above 80 degrees Friday afternoon in Niagara Falls, but that didn't stop seven break dancers from Official Crew.

"The floor is hot like crazy, I'm telling you," said Maciek Milczarek, of Poland. Milczarek, 26, is temporarily living in Buffalo.

The other six dancers, from Buffalo and Niagara Falls, took turns along with Milczarek to dance on the small wood floor they set up on Old Falls Street.

"We are a mixed group having fun dancing," said Marco Mendez, leader of Official Crew.

The 22-year-old Mendez, of Niagara Falls, sprained his knee a couple of days before, but still did some dancing on one foot and was going to try to incorporate his crutches later in the day. "It's crunch time," he said. "This is one of the biggest events we have."


Turtle out of its shell

Although it closed about 20 years ago, the Turtle building in Niagara Falls had its side doors open and dancers performing on a balcony facing Old Falls Street.

Sheldon Sundown, entertainment director of Sovereign Economic Development Consultants, set up the performances. He said the building was opened for the Wallenda walk to raise awareness of Native American culture, but declined to say whether the Turtle will be reopened.

Instead, he only hinted, repeatedly saying, "can't talk about that yet" when asked about the potential redevelopment of the building.

But for Russell Smith, 53, seeing the Turtle reopened brought back memories of when he worked there for many years. Smith started in maintenance in the building and worked his way up to dancing and acting.

When he started at the Turtle, he said there would sometimes be more than 800 dancers performing with shows lasting several hours.

"This is one of the most extraordinary buildings I've ever had the pleasure to work in," Smith said. "We've been looking for a way to integrate the Turtle into Niagara Falls again."

Enter the Wallenda walk.


Recalling Blondin

Ginger Strand, author of "Inventing Niagara," led an informal discussion at 1:30 p.m. Friday inside the Conference & Event Center Niagara Falls about the history and meaning behind public stunts in Niagara Falls. A second discussion -- titled "Stunting What's It All About?" -- was scheduled for the evening.

Strand focused on French tightrope walker Charles Blondin and showed pictures of the legendary daredevil to about 10 people gathered in the center shortly after 1:30 p.m.

Blondin was famous for crossing the gorge below Niagara Falls on a tightrope 1,100 feet long and 160 feet above the water. He first accomplished this in 1859 but went on to return to the location a number of times. But he always did something different. He went across blindfolded, pushing a wheelbarrow, on stilts and carrying his manager, Harry Colcord, on his back.

"He was a great showman," Strand said, calling the carrying of his manager, who was heavier than the tightrope walker, Blondin's most famous stunt.

In the middle of the walk, Strand said, Blondin told Colcord to get off his back so he could rest. This happened several times on the walk, which Blondin would successfully complete.

While the art of tightrope walking has changed over the years, the emotion of the crowd remains the same, she said.

"Everyone was so tight and tense, and Blondin realized it could go wrong at the last minute," Strand said about Blondin's walk with his manager on his back. To make sure they made it across, she said, Blondin ran the last 10 feet on the rope and crashed into the crowd waiting on the other side.

Compiled by News Staff Reporters Jon Harris and Jay Rey.