Wallenda brings high adventure

May 23, 1997


Staff Writer

BOONSBORO - The petite red-haired woman in the red costume looks completely at ease as she climbs the sway pole and stops to pose at the 60-foot mark.

Heights don't bother Carla Wallenda, a member of the famous Flying Wallendas, a circus family who developed what was considered by some to be the most spectacular high-wire act in circus history.

The family's trademark was that its members worked without a safety net.

Carla Wallenda, who joined family members on the wire when she was 3 years old, is the last of the older generation of the famous Flying Wallendas still performing.


Beginning today and for the next week, she will perform daily at the Great Boonsboro Carnival at Shafer Park.

During the carnival, Wallenda will perform her feature act on a sway pole - a 110-foot-high flexible pole.

She sways 25 feet to each side, making a 50 foot arc with the pole. She poses, smiles and waves while on the pole, sometimes without hands or feet making contact with the pole.

"It is total concentration when I'm actually doing the stunt," Wallenda said before she climbed up the pole. "When taking a bow and posing, I'm goofing off, and in the daytime, I'm looking for yard sales in the town."

Wallenda, who has been working high above the ground on one apparatus or another for 58 years, said she has no immediate plans to quit.

"I'm 61 and I plan to do it another 39 years," she said. "I only do what I'm absolutely certain I can do."

Wallenda says that certainty is important because several family members have died or been injured in falls.

In 1962, while the Wallendas were performing their seven-person human pyramid on the high wire in Detroit, one of the performers, Carla's cousin, lost control and the pyramid collapsed.

Carla, who usually was the performer at the tip of the pyramid, was not on the wire that night. Her cousin Jana, 17, from Germany was top person for the first time.

Carla Wallenda's cousin, Dieta, and her brother-in-law, Richard, were killed in the accident. Carla's brother Mario was paralyzed from the waist down when he fell 65 feet from the wire to the ground. Her father Karl, the patriarch of the Wallenda family, caught the wire between his legs, breaking his pelvis. By chance, as Jana fell past him, he was able to grab her by one arm and hold onto her until a safety net could be set up.

Wallenda said she usually performs two shows a night and on the weekends and holidays she will do three performances.

Wallenda has called Sarasota, Fla., home from the time her parents Helen and Karl, came from Germany and spent 17 years with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The circus' headquarters was in Sarasota.

"If I stay home, I get all fidgety," Wallenda said while fidgeting as if she could picture herself sitting at home at that moment.

Wallenda's family is still involved in the aerial performing business. Her sister Jenny, 70, retired a few years ago. Her brother Mario's last show was when he was paralyzed in Detroit. However, their children and their children's children are all entering the business, and most are already performing.

Wallenda brought two of her granddaughters, Nova, 10, and Lyric 13, to Boonsboro with her. They also plan to go into the aerial performing business.

Carla Wallenda will perform today at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.; Saturday, Sunday and Monday at 3 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., and Tuesday through Thursday, at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

The Herald-Mail Articles