Karl and Helen Wallenda wed on May 31, 1935, in Covington, KY, while touring with the Greatest Show on Earth, Ringling Brothers Circus. The two met in Germany when Helen responded to an ad in a trade magazine seeking a girl for a highwire troupe. Sixteen year old Helen Kries responded and left her family in Bavaria. She was born in Ingolstadt, December 11, 1910, to parents Sabine and Valentine Kries, a family not unfamiliar with the entertainment business. The Kries family was and still is involved in festival style entertainment in Germany, but she left home never to return. When she arrived at the designated location, she learned that the show had already departed, but the station master had instructions for her. Karl Wallenda awaited his new protégé patiently at their next stop.
Karl was born in Magdeburg, January 21, 1905, to parents, Kunnegunde Jamison, and Engelbert Wallenda. He created and managed the highwire troupe, the center piece of Arena Wallenda, the show he presented. He learned to walk the highwire from Louis Weitzman a few years earlier. Karl’s mother trained him as a hand balancer, and after WWI, hungry, out of work and money, needing to feed his family, Karl responded to an ad in the same trade magazine, seeking a hand balancer. It was a high wire troupe. Karl reluctantly joined the act, and his handstands on Weitzman on the wire became his signature tricks.
Karl recruited his best-friend, Joe Geiger, and his older brother, Herman. Helen joined this troupe already on tour, and the original Wallenda troupe was born. Helen immediately practiced and proved beyond average proficiency, topping the four-person pyramid on the highwire, a position she held for the next 20 years, until the creation of the famed seven-person-pyramid. The Wallenda Troupe left Arena Wallenda in the capable hands of step-father George Grotefent and brother Arthur, when they joined Ringling in 1928.
The troupe was an immediate sensation, garnishing a 15 minute standing ovation for their first appearance, April 5, 1928, that performance director, Fred Bradna, commented was the only time the big show was ever stopped by an act. The couple had only one child, Carla, born in Sarasota, FL, February 13, 1936. Karl and Helen remained married until Karl fell to his death, in San Juan, Puerto Rico while attempting a walk between two towers of a hotel, March 22, 1978.