The image of Karl Wallenda crossing the Tallulah Gorge is still vivid for those who witnessed it on July 18, 1970.
Wallenda arrived in the Northeast Georgia mountains with a couple of security guards dressed as clowns with red noses and face paint, but he loved to interact with townspeople and the thousands of spectators who showed up to watch the feat, recalls the Rev. James Turpen, 77.
Turpen, who has been pastor of Tallulah Falls United Methodist Church for the past five decades, gave the invocation for Wallenda before his walk.
“We prayed him across; we just prayed him across,” Turpen recalls.
The pastor and others in the region are revisiting those memories now, as Wallenda’s great-grandson, Nik Wallenda, formulates plans to recreate the walk this summer — with a high-tech twist.
Nik Wallenda wants to use technology to project the image of his great-grandfather crossing the Georgia gorge onto the wire, so that both appear to be walking it side-by-side.
“My dream has always been to walk the wire with him,” Nik Wallenda said in an interview.
There is film footage of the 1970 walk, and the younger Wallenda believes it can be used to create the effect of both men walking the wire together.
Residents living in and near the town of Tallulah Falls, about 90 miles northeast of Atlanta, are hoping to make the walk happen.
The walk hasn’t been finalized yet, Nik Wallenda said. But the Rabun County Tourism
Development Authority is planning the “Tallulah Gorge Skywalk Celebration” for this summer and already has a website, a Facebook page and a logo for the event.
“The weekend of July 18, 2015 will mark the 45th anniversary of Karl Wallenda’s walk and we will hold the Skywalk Celebration to commemorate this wonderful date in history,” the authority says on its website. “Nik Wallenda will be the culmination of the entire event with his walk across the gorge himself.”
In the summer of 1970, adults bought $5 tickets and children paid $2 to see Karl Wallenda cross the gorge, but “there were a lot of folks who just came through the woods and otherwise. It wasn’t fenced in,” Turpen said. He said about 30,000 spectators showed up.
Turpen doesn’t remember exactly what he said during the invocation. He thinks he tried to do something to get the Lord’s attention “but I think Karl already had the Lord’s attention.”
Karl Wallenda then set out across the nearly 1,000-foot gorge and did two handstands out on the wire — a maneuver the younger Wallenda has been practicing.
Nik Wallenda said in an interview that he doesn’t know the specifics of the technology. But he noted technology has been used to make celebrities appear as 3-D images in recent stage shows.
James Oliver, director of the Virtual Reality Applications Center at Iowa State University, said his first impression of the general idea is that it would be possible to create the effect of the younger Wallenda walking in the footsteps of his great-grandfather, at least for part of the walk.
Wallenda first discussed the idea of crossing Tallulah Gorge in an interview with The Associated Press in February, hours after he traversed a 100-foot-high tightrope inside the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
“To be able to walk literally in his footsteps is what my life’s about,” he said after the Georgia Dome walk.
The high-wire walker from Sarasota, Florida, discussed the Georgia gorge walk again in December, after successfully crossing wires high above downtown Chicago.
Karl Wallenda fell to his death while trying to cross a wire between two buildings in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1978.
For Nik Wallenda, the Tallulah Gorge walk would add to accomplishments that include his crossing of Niagara Falls in 2012 and the Little Colorado River Gorge in Arizona in 2013.
In Georgia, state officials would have to approve an application for the event since the gorge is part of Tallulah Gorge State Park, Georgia State Parks spokeswoman Kim Hatcher has said.orge