Charles Blondin was the very first man to ever walk the wire over the Niagara Gorge near Niagara Falls. However, Charles Blondin‘s real name was Jean-François Gravelet.
Born in France, Gravelet was totally absorbed by the “wire” after watching a wire walker at the circus as a young child. Gravelet mastered the wire after only six months of training and was encouraged by his father who was a gymnast.
Gravelet chose the name Charles Blondin as his stage name because of his blond hair. The name change came for Blondin when he joined P.T Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth in the United States.
Charles Blondin crossed the Niagara Gorge in the vicinity where the Rainbow Bridge is now located on June 30th 1859. Charles Blondin made the crossing numerous times on a tightrope, 1, 300 ft long, 3.25 in in diameter, made out of hemp and 160 ft above the water.
Charles Blondin did more than just walk across the Niagara Gorge. Blondin did it blindfolded, in a sack, trundling a wheelbarrow, on stilts, carrying a man (his manager, Harry Colcord) on his back, sitting down midway while he cooked and ate an omelet and standing on a chair with only one chair leg on the rope.
Charles Blondin became so comfortable on the wire over Niagara that some critics grew tired of his “boorish” behavior. While some witnesses could not believe their eyes as they watched Blondin conduct himself as if he was walking down a sidewalk and over the boiling waters of Niagara.
Despite placing himself at great danger throughout his career, Charles Blondin died peacefully in his bed on February 19, 1897 at the age of 75. The cause of death was listed as diabetes.
Charles Blondin was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery in London next to his first wife, Charlotte, who died in 1888, and where his second wife, Katherine, who died in 1901, would also be buried.