Detroit, MI Circus Performers In Tragedy, Jan 1962



Detroit (AP) -- Two members of the famed WALLENDAS family troupe were killed Tuesday night when three of the performers fell while doing their dizzying act on a circus high wire.
A crowd of 7,000 children and adults gasped in horror as the three men plummeted from the slender wire.
Three other male performers saved themselves and the only woman in the act by clinging to the swaying wire about 40 feet above a concrete coliseum floor. DIETER SCHEPP, 23, and RICHARD FAUGHNAN, 29, were injured fatally in the plunge.
MARIO WALLENDA, 22, also fell. His condition was described as "very critical" by a physician.
DIETER'S sister, JANA, 17, also was injured. Others of the troupe, clinging to the wire, caught her as she fell.
Those who managed to grab the wire and hold on were HERMAN WALLENDA, 60, KARL WALLENDA, 57, and GUNTHER WALLENDA, 42, descendants in a family which has kept the troupe's name before the public for nearly 90 years.
They caught MISS SCHEPP and then dropped her into an improvised net.
The injured were rushed to nearby Highland Park General Hospital, where FAUGHNAN was dead of a skull fracture. SHEPP died early today.
The tragedy which marred a long and illustrious performing history came during the Shrine circus at the Michigan State fairgrounds Coliseum.
DIETER SCHEPP and his sister escaped together only a few months ago from behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany.
FAUGHNAN was making his debut with the Wallendas.
The four younger men formed the base of a pyramid with their feet on the high wire. KARL and HERMAN WALLENDA were standing on long rods which ran along the younger men's shoulders. MISS SCHEPP was seated on a chair on a rod on the older men's shoulders.
Suddenly the pyramid collapsed. HERMAN, KARL and GUNTHER WALLENDA managed to stay on the wire and grap MISS SCHEPP.
For a time panic threatened from the shocked crowd. Some men tried to run into the ring. Women wept. Others, including children, were frozen in their seats.
A circus clown, ERNIE BLINKO BURCH, was credited with bringing calm. BURCH, grotesque in his makeup, stood in the ring center pleading for order.
FAUGHNAN'S wife, JENNY, 33, a troupe member, was standing on a platform at one end of the high wire.
She said her husband did not appear to have a good grip on his 35-pound balancing bar and lost his balance as he tried to change the grip.
"DIETER called out that he couldn't hold any longer," she said. "He threw the pole into the air to gip it in the center and lost his balance. This threw everybody else off balance and down they went."
The aerialist dynasty was founded in 1874 in Germany by KARL'S grandfather, also named KARL. The troupe came to the United States in 1928 and starred with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Baily Circus.
The present KARL and HERMAN are uncles of JANA and DIETER. GUNTHER is a son of HERMAN. MARIO WALLENDA is CARL'S son.
The WALLENDAS usually perform without a net.

Daily Journal Fergus Falls Minnesota 1962-01-31