Flashback: Karl Wallenda’s high-wire walk across Tallulah Gorge, 1970

How do you draw attention to your town? Bring in the daredevil.

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Tallulah Gorge

Photograph courtesy of Georgia State Parks

Tallulah Falls city leaders wanted to increase the town’s profile, so they did the obvious: They invited Karl Wallenda—a German-born daredevil who had captivated audiences around the world with nail-biting, high-wire walks—to cross Tallulah Gorge in what some considered his riskiest stunt yet. While Governor Lester Maddox and 30,000 gawkers looked on, Wallenda slowly stepped along a tightrope spanning approximately 1,000 feet across and 750 feet above the ground. After 18 minutes (and two handstands, one in honor of soldiers in Vietnam and another for laughs), the 65-year-old hopped off the platform on the other side, where his wife handed him a martini. The platforms of the metal towers that held the wire are still visible along the gorge’s trail, and the suit worn by Wallenda, who died eight years later falling from a tightrope suspended between two hotels in Puerto Rico, is on display at the visitor center. His great-grandson, Nik, had planned to recreate the feat at Tallulah Gorge in 2015—replete with an animated version of Karl projected by his side—but backed out, citing subpar technology.

This article appears in our October 2018 issue.

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