For a couple of summers in the mid-19th century, many thousands of Americans thrilled to the exploits of a Frenchman who, on several occasions, crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope. He was called Blondin, or sometimes The Great Blondin, although his real name was Jean Francois Gravelet. On June 30, 1859, he made the first transit of the gorge below the Falls. (It’s tempting to say that he made quite a splash by not making a splash, but that’s too easy.)
After that first walk, he did it quite a few more times, always adding some new daredevil element. Blondin crossed Niagara Falls on stilts, on a bicycle, blindfolded, at night… one time he pushed a wheelbarrow along the tightrope; in the wheelbarrow was a stove. When Blondin reached the middle of the tightrope, he got out the stove, upon which he cooked an omelet. He ate the omelet and then completed the crossing.
I first heard of Blondin’s exploits in a sermon many years ago. The minister cited Blondin to illustrate the difference between mere beliefs and actual faith. He told a story that may or may not be factual, but the gist of it was that Blondin was discussing with an associate the next variation for crossing Niagara Falls. He had hit upon the idea of walking that tightrope, 160 above the water, while carrying a man on his back. Blondin asked his friend if he thought it was possible.
“Of course,” the guy said. “After what you have already accomplished, it should be no problem to cross the Falls with a man on your back.” Blondin nodded his agreement and then responded:
“Will you be that man?”
Although the minister’s point about having the courage of our convictions was made in a spiritual context, it applies to ethical, political and matrimonial issues as well.
Blondin’s fifth crossing of Niagara Falls was with a man on his back. The man, incidentally, was his manager, Harry Colcord. There is no historical record of whether Colcord then demanded a higher percentage from his client.