Nik Wallenda captivated Chicago and the world Sunday night with a pair of daring high-wire walks hundreds of feet above the city.
In a little less than seven minutes, Wallenda made good on his promise to walk a steel wire across the Chicago River from the Marina City towers to the Leo Burnett building.
And then he trumped the stunt by returning to Marina City for another two-minute walk across its two towers — blindfolded.
The crowds below cheered as Wallenda, who appeared like an orange dot against a purple sky, cruised across the high-wire, earned two world records and took in a view of Chicago few will ever see. He later called it an “amazing, beautiful city.”
“Praise God, here I am,” Wallenda said after completing the walks.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel called Wallenda’s stunt “a spectacular event” that “speaks to the true spirit of Chicago.” The performance ended weeks of hype that grew even more fervent as crews installed the wires over the Chicago River in recent days.
Thirty-six years ago, Wallenda’s 73-year-old great-grandfather Karl Wallenda fell to his death attempting a wire walk between two hotel towers on a windy day in Puerto Rico.
Nik Wallenda’s stunt Sunday was riskier.
But undaunted, the daredevil seemed to mostly regret not taking a cell-phone “selfie” as he was perched halfway across the river on the first leg of his performance. Ultimately, he decided against it. That half of the stunt involved a 19-degree incline, which he later called “doggone intimidating.”
And he said the wind picked up as he traveled south.
“There were some strong winds, hit me in the face,” Wallenda said. “I tried to lean in as I’m walking uphill, and it stood me up straight.”
The stunt drew thousands to the Chicago River. They stared up at a thin white wire strung between the Marina City towers and the Leo Burnett building that stood out clearly against the night sky.
Spotlights lit up, helicopters hovered overhead, and it seemed as though all of Chicago had stopped in anticipation of the 35-year-old’s death-defying stunt.
Wallenda’s walk took him 588 feet in the air on a 3/4-inch-thick steel wire across two city blocks. He traveled over the Chicago River, from the west tower of Marina City to the Leo Burnett building, ending 671 feet high.
From there, Wallenda, of the famed Flying Wallendas family, traveled back to Marina City to walk blindfolded 94 feet across a 5/8-inch-thick steel wire between the two corncob-shaped towers, 543 feet in the air.
Soon after leaving his perch high above the city, Wallenda was joking with reporters. He said he planned “to celebrate with my family. And I’m not going to tell you where.”
He said he looked up Chicago’s “Windy City” nickname, and he realized it’s all about politics. “But it sounds good.”
And when prompted, he dutifully needled the quarterback of the Chicago Bears: “I would love to help Jay Cutler with his footwork.”
But he also said the crowd cheering him on below gave him “just an unbelievable feeling.”
And as for the city, Wallenda said, “Chicago was a dream.”