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  • Writer's pictureRevShirleyMurphy

An Acrobat, A Wheelbarrow, and a Challenge of Faith

The amazing story of Charles Blondin, a famous French tightrope walker, is a wonderful illustration of what true faith is.

Do you know the name Charles Blondin? What about Jean Francois Gravelet? The two are the same. Gravelet was born in 1824 and then changed his name to Blondin.

Blondin, born in 1824, grew to be only five feet five and 140 pounds; he had bright blue eyes and golden hair (which gave him his nickname). He believed that a ropewalker was “like a poet, born and not made,” and discovered his calling at the age of four, mounting a rope strung between two chairs placed a few feet apart. The following year he enrolled at the École de Gymnase in Lyon. He first came to America in 1855 at the behest of theatrical agent William Niblo and was about to begin an engagement with Franconi’s Equestrian Troop when the idea struck to cross the falls. “He was more like a fantastic sprite than a human being,” wrote his manager, Harry Colcord. “Had he lived a century or two earlier he would have been treated as one possessed of a devil…. He could walk the rope as a bird cleaves to air.”

Blondin was a world-famous tightrope walker. Early in 1859, Blondin decided that he would be the first to walk a tightrope stretched across Niagara Falls, 1,100 feet long and 160 feet in the air. He began to promote the event around town and the buzz started. Blondin was as good a promoter and entertainer as he was a tightrope walker. The day came for the performance, Blondin didn’t disappoint, and neither did the residents of neighboring towns. There were thousands of people gathered around. Some to heckle, some to cheer, and some were there just to say they were there.

As Blondin arrived he gets the crowd worked into a frenzy, and then jumps up on the rope and has a couple of warm up exercises. To the crowd’s amazement, he doesn’t look nearly as stable on the rope as he should. Parts of the crowd begin to jeer and hurl insults and laugh at the guy that is about to fall to his death. Shouts of “This can’t be done”, “you’ll never pull this off”, blah blah blah. The rest of the crowd grew silent. Blondin continued. Blondin grab his balancing pole and started down the rope. The entire path across he seemed to stumble and trip. The entire crowd grew quiet. Not a peep. As Blondin reached the other side, he knew he had their attention when they went from dead silent to offering a thunderous applause. The path back was not as uneasy.

He arrived back to everyone cheering. He had done it, but he wasn’t done. He then proceeded to go back and forth another five times. He traversed the rope with no pole. Then he took a chair half-way and sat a spell. Then he took some juggling pins and juggled all the way across, and then took a hot plate and made himself lunch. With every trip, the crowd got louder. For the last trip he ratcheted up one more notch.

The wheel barrel was unveiled. The crowd cheered and there was no doubt in his ability to move it across. Blondin quieted the crowd, and you could hear a pin drop. He then asks for a volunteer … to ride in the wheel barrel…across Niagara Falls. The crowd had seen him in action, they believed him, but they didn’t trust him, at least not with their lives. Eventually, his manager (some accounts say his mother) jumps in and they both make the trip just as easily as the others

Niagara would become Blondin’s second home as he repeated the stunt numerous times adding evermore daring feats to the task. He made the journey backward, blindfolded, in a sack, somersaulting, locked in chains, on stilts, and carrying people on his back. Another stunt involved carrying people across in a wheelbarrow, his greatest passenger, however, was a lion! Though newspapers and writers like Mark Twain were not kind of Blondin—calling him reckless and an “adventurous ass”—the public at large was captivated by the morbid possibility of Blondin. Thousands of people, even including US presidents, watched in awe as he did what seemed impossible.

The first time he carried someone on his back, he chose his own manager, Harry Colcord, admitting to his friend that the stunt could go poorly. He told his manager to become one with himself, and not to try balancing on his own. Indeed, as they walked over the rope, several of the attached guy-lines snapped.

Blondin’s balance was so good that he was able to stop mid-rope and eat an omelet off a small table while sitting in a chair balanced on the rope. News of his aerial daredevilry became so widespread that his very name became synonymous with tightrope walking. He traveled back and forth to Europe performing for huge crowds putting on his final performance at the age of 72 after walking an estimated 10,000 miles on a tightrope.

Blondin performed in China, Japan, Australia, India and throughout Europe. He soured on America in 1888 when he was forbidden to perform in Central Park and had to settle instead for St. George in Staten Island. Although he was then 65 years old, he carried his son and another man on his back and made another omelet for the crowd. By the time he gave his final performance, in 1896, it was estimated that Blondin had crossed Niagara Falls 300 times and walked more than 10,000 miles on his rope. He died of complications from diabetes the following year. In nearly 73 years on this earth, he never had life insurance. No one, he’d always joked, would take the risk.

It's one thing for us to say we believe in God. It's true faith though when we believe God and put our faith and trust in His Son, Jesus Christ.

God is like Blondin. You can believe that Jesus can save you and that He can help you through life. Maybe you have seen Him do great things for other people. Maybe you have read the Bible and heard lots of different people's stories like Jonah and Moses and read how God saved them. BUT until YOU actually put your own faith in Jesus, it doesn't mean anything. YOU need to get in the wheelbarrow and let God walk you through life. You need to actually put your faith in Him and TRUST Him to carry you.

The Bible says in the book of Daniel: 'but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action' (Daniel 11:32b). If you really KNOW God, you know that He is trustworthy, and you can take action by putting your faith in Him and doing what He asks of you.

In the book of Titus, it says: "They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works." (Titus 1:16a) If you say you know Jesus/God, then your life should show that you are trusting Him and following his commands.

In 1 John it says, 'let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.' (1st John 3:18) Don't just talk about believing, but actually DO it.

It is important to put our Faith into action. We can talk all day about believing Jesus, but we actually need to step out and DO it.

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