After Niagara Falls and Grand Canyon, Wallenda should conquer Erie Canal

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 June 2013 at 12:00 am

15 died in Albion in 1859 while watching a wire walker

Wikipedia photo

Nik Wallenda should add the Erie Canal to a growing list of famed sites that he has crossed on a high wire.

A year ago he conquered Niagara Falls, walking across the raging river on a high wire. Tonight, Nik Wallenda will attempt to clear the Grand Canyon while suspended 1,500 feet above the Colorado River Gorge.

I wish him well. Nik is an inspirational person, full of daring and courage.

I want him to come to Albion to do the longest wire walk on water. He could add the Erie Canal to his list of famed attractions that he faced down.

The calm canal is hardly the Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon. The man-made waterway, which opened in 1825, isn’t a deep descent into the abyss. But the canal would lend itself to a long line of spectators. We could put stakes in the canal to hold the wire and Wallenda could walk a mile or more above the water, ending the walk at the Main Street lift bridge. I think he could start the walk by the Gaines Basin canal bridge and head east to the village. We could pack tens of thousands of people along the way.

Nik Wallenda should come walk the Erie Canal in Albion, ending at the journey at the Main Street lift bridge, where tragedy struck 154 years ago.

This isn’t just a crowd-pleasing initiative.

A Wallenda walk would bring a positive to a community that is home to one of the worst canal tragedies ever. It involves a wire walk from Sept. 28, 1859.

There was a bit of a wire-walking frenzy back then. Jean Francois Gravelet, “The Great Blondin,” walked across the Falls on a tight rope on June 30, 1859. A bunch of copycats sprang up, including one in Albion three months later during the county fair. The wooden Main Street bridge was packed with 250 people and five horses to watch a wire walker cross the canal just west of the bridge.

The wire walker didn’t get far before the bridge gave out from the weight of all the people and the horses. At least 15 people died, many of them children and young adults.

This tragedy wasn’t noted in the community until 2002, when the Orleans County Historical Association put a marker just west of the canal. The marker didn’t have enough room for the names of the people who died that day.

This historical marker acknowledges a horrific day in Albion’s history.

I think there should be a bigger memorial, with the names of the victims from this horrific accident. This was Albion’s most tragic day ever.

I’d like Nik to come and help us dedicate a fitting memorial to these folks. I think a nice fountain between the two lift bridges could serve as a memorial and a much-needed beautification project along the canal. If the fountain was between the lift bridges, it would also be visible from Platt Street, providing additional aesthetic benefit to the village and local residents.

The names of the people who died could be listed on a big sandstone slab or perhaps on a memorial sandstone walkway that could go around the fountain.

I put word out to Nik’s team about this project last summer, and he was reportedly “intrigued.” I haven’t pestered him because I knew he was focused on the Grand Canyon.

A memorial fountain would be highly visible from land and water along the canal bank at the end of Platt Street. The sign should be removed to make way for a fountain and memorial site for the victims of the 1859 bridge collapse.

I think now is the time for Albion community to try to entice him here, to help us pay our respects to people in a sad chapter of our history. Nik would be a part of Albion’s rebirth, helping a community that honors its heritage.

I’d like one of the local businesses or perhaps the Village Office to create a giant invitation for Nik. Let’s have hundreds, maybe thousands, of people sign it and we’ll get it to him. As a community we also need to commit ourselves to a fitting memorial for these people from Sept. 28, 1859.

Here are some of their names:

Perry G. Cole, aged 19, Barre.

Augusta Martin, aged 18, Carlton.

Mrs. Ann Viele, aged 36, Gaines.

Edwin Stillson, aged 16, Barre

Joseph Code, aged 18, Albion

Lydia Harris, aged 11, Albion

Thomas Handy, aged 66, Yates

Sarah Thomas, aged 10, Carlton

Harry Henry, aged 22

Ransom S. Murdock, aged 17, Carlton

Adelbert Wilcox, aged 17, West Kendall

Sophia Pratt, aged 18, Toledo, Ohio

Thomas Aulchin, aged 50, Paris, C.W.

Jane Lavery, Albion

(To read news accounts of the tragedy, click here.)