The city’s frayed nerves calmed down Monday after Nik Wallenda’s blindfolded, uphill and dangerous high wire walks were successfully completed — but that doesn’t mean Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants more daredevil performances.
The mayor said he has no problem with heights himself, but while watching the show at home, he was nervous.
“He’s done it so many times in much more difficult conditions,” Emanuel said. In terms of risk, “he’s taking the bigger one.”
Emanuel didn’t say what type of “risk” the city took.
But Emanuel, who named Monday Nik Wallenda Day and visited with the tightrope walker in his City Hall office, said he appreciated the attention the event brought to the city.
More than 65,000 people lined the riverfront for Wallenda’s walk Sunday night from the west tower of Marina City to the Leo Burnett building on a steep incline, and then blindfolded between the two Marina City towers, according to city officials. Nearly seven million people watched the event on television.
Emanuel said he was first approached about the idea while he waited in the green room for the “Late Show With David Letterman” over a year ago. New York had turned it down, and he saw it as Chicago’s gain.
Then he set about convincing city officials the idea was a good one, which included convincing the state. Illinois’ Aerial Exhibitors Safety Act prohibits performances over 20 feet off the ground without a net, and Wallenda never uses a net.
The city later told the news media the law seems to be intended to protect performers from being pressured to take risks, and Wallenda was making this choice himself.
“Even if I was comfortable, we have to work through a number of issues to get everybody else comfortable,” Emanuel said.
“I think the state perspective was more, how shall we describe it, acquiesced. They looked the other way,” he said. “We haven’t had, not to my knowledge, a flood of calls this morning.”
Wallenda looked for ways to make the walk work in a city he has visited “too many times to count.”
“First choice was Willis, of course, the tallest skyscraper, that was very attractive to me,” Wallenda said. “But the fact that there’s nothing anywhere near it that’s that tall, there was no reality.”
Marina City’s iconic façade was the natural next choice, and with its selection came the chance to both walk uphill and walk blindfolded.
He “thought about what’s the postcard, how are we going to showcase this city, what’s going to look amazing on the front of USA Today or any newspaper around the world?”
His normal routine is to drink only juice for the week leading up to the walk, and then the day before, eat some serious calories. This time, he had deep-dish cheese pizza at Giordano’s.
The two walks set world records, and Wallenda called the mayor as soon as he finished to thank him for allowing the event to happen in Chicago.
Then he celebrated with a steak at Gene and Georgetti.
Next up, he plans to walk the Tallulah Gorge in Georgia, in an attempt to recreate his great-grandfather’s greatest walk there. It’s not as tall as the Chicago walk — just 600 feet — but it’ll involve two headstands.