You’d think once would be enough.
Once walking on a 5/8 inch steel cable strung across Eldorado Canyon, 582 feet above South Boulder Creek.
Once covering that distance of 635 feet with nothing but skill between you and death.
The first time Ivy Baldwin accomplished that feat, it broke a world record.
Forty or so times later, Ivy made a final crossing to celebrate his 82nd birthday.
Eighty. Two. That wiry, graceful guy in the newsreel footage is 82:
Today, 31 July, marks the seventy-fourth anniversary of that last tightrope walk across Eldorado Canyon.
It started out as publicity stunt. Gene Fowler, in his autobiography, says that his step father, Fred Fowler, wanted to promote his new hotel in Eldorado Springs. Ivy Baldwin was already famous, and the attempt would be sure to draw a crowd.
Fowler was a little kid then, star-struck by the aerialist. Ivy lived in a cottage in Eldorado Springs. Despite his celebrity, Ivy was a modest and friendly man, and he was happy to pass time with Gene, and he showed him the scrapbooks he kept.
In them, Gene Fowler read hundreds of news articles documenting parachutes from balloons, trapeze artistry 2,500 feet above the earth, and tightrope walks over dusty main streets in the West and between the new skyscrapers rising in the East.
The day of Ivy’s first walk, Fowler clambered up with his step father Fred to Twin Peaks, where the tightrope ended.
Ivy made his preparations with the precision and care of a toreador, Fowler says, making sure to put on his camel-leather slippers at the very end. The crowd of 1,500 fell silent.
Fowler describes the final moments of the crossing:
The walker had been on the wire for perhaps five and half minutes, and was about forty feet away from Fred’s place on Twin Peaks when he stopped short with a wavering stance.
“Hey Fred!” he called. “Start counting out loud, and keep on counting.”
“Counting?” the amazed Fred shouted. “Counting what?”
“Start counting ‘one, two, three,’” Ivy said, “and keep it up good and loud.”
“What in hell’s got into you,” Fred inquired. “Are you crazy?”
“I’ve gone blind,” Ivy said in a calm voice.
“Commence counting, so’s I can tell by the sound what direction I’m going.”
Fred starts counting.
“That’s it,” Ivy said, and his face showed not a shadow of fear or dread. “How close am I?
“About fifteen feet, I’d say Ivy, One, two , three… For God’s sake … “
Ivy was within six or seven feet of his goal now. “Don’t grab me careless, Fred,” he directed. “Just be sure and get hold of the middle of the pole exactly between my hands. And stand braced.”
Fred did his job, and Ivy finished the crossing.
It turns out the sun blinded Ivy. Despite his careful preparations, Ivy hadn’t counted on the glare of the sun from rocks facing him. His vision returned after a few days.
On other crossings across Eldorado Canyon, Ivy had to contend with the sudden blasts of wind that blow down the canyon. Once, a sudden thunderstorm nearly washed him off the cable. But he lived through all the vagaries of a daredevil’s life, and died in bed at 87.
Balance and confidence
Fowler remained close to Ivy Baldwin. As an adult, he asked Ivy what the secret was to his success.
“Balance and confidence, he said, were the secret. “I think that’s true of a whole lot of other things, too,” he added. “Balance and confidence.”