Maria Spelterini was an Italian tightrope walker. Accounts state that she grew up around her father’s circus troupe. At the age of 3 she performed in public for the first time. As she grew older, she embarked on a solo career and made a name for herself around Europe as a tightrope artist.
On July 8, 1876, Maria became the only woman to cross the Niagara Gorge on a tightrope. She did this – at the age of 23 – as part of a celebration of the U.S. Centennial. She crossed the Niagara Gorge, from the United States side to Canada, in front of the Niagara Suspension Bridge, which was full of spectators. She did it while decked out in a colorful costume.
She crossed again on July 12, 1876, this time wearing peach baskets strapped to her feet. She did the stunt with a paper bag over her head on July 19, and on July 22 she crossed with her ankles and wrists manacled. Additionally, she made the trek backwards and, another time, skipped the entire time.
After her Niagara Falls stunts, she went on to perform at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. After that, she drops out of sight. Nothing is known about her personal life or what she did after the Niagara Falls and Philadelphia showings.