Crowds gathered on span to watch tightrope artist
In 1880, a vote was held to decide the seat of newly created Spokane County. Cheney and Spokane Falls, both important railroad towns, wanted it. Spokane was declared the winner, but Cheneyites suspected voting irregularities. An armed band of men from Cheney broke into the auditor’s office, counted the votes and declared Cheney the victor. A court confirmed the result in 1881. By mutual agreement, Cheney and Spokane threw grand Fourth of July festivals in alternating years, and 1882 was Cheney’s turn. Still angry about the election, Spokane business leaders hired Charles Blondin, the celebrated acrobat and tightrope walker, and challenged him to stretch a rope across Spokane Falls on the Fourth of July. Blondin had walked across Niagara Falls in 1859 and several times since. Crowds packed around the falls to watch Blondin, born Jean-Francois Gravelet in France in 1824, walk the rope that was strung near the Post Street Bridge. He walked across wearing spangled tights, then returned blindfolded and carrying a man on his back. In contrast, Cheney’s festival was a bust. The plan was a blatant stick-in-the-eye to Cheney civic pride. Spokane Falls, however, began growing faster and retook the county seat after another vote in 1886. Stung by the slight, Cheney fought for and was granted the region’s “normal school,” the teacher training college that became Eastern Washington University. – Jesse Tinsley
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