This Day in History (24-Oct-1901) – First barrel ride down Niagara Falls

It is said that Niagara Falls has a hypnotic allure that gives some people the uncontrollable urge to jump in and join the powerful, swirling waters. Officials say that they recover an average of 20 people per year who chose Niagara Falls as the place to end their lives. But there are those who choose to go over the Falls in the name of adventure, not suicide. Since 1901, 16 people have gone over the Falls in the name of adventure — the most recent in 2012. Their desire to experience the thrill has sent them to the edge of the Falls and down the 170-foot (52-meter) drop into the swirling, icy waters below. Of those 16, 11 have survived, and two men actually went over the falls and survived twice. Some of these daredevils spent thousands of dollars — their life savings, in most cases — building barrels and other craft to protect themselves during the horrific plunge into rocks and rapids. Others went over with no protection at all.

The first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel was Annie Edson Taylor. Annie was a 63-year-old, retired school teacher and widow from Bay City, Michigan, who claimed she was only 43. She thought that going over the Falls was the way to fame and fortune. She designed an airtight barrel (actually a modified pickle barrel) and hired a manager to publicize the event. On her birthday, October 24th, she climbed into the barrel with her cat and went over the falls with an audience of reporters and tourists watching. Having compressed the air in the barrel to 30 psi with a bicycle pump, she strapped herself in with pillows and an anvil for ballast. She survived the plunge.

She was pulled from her barrel 17 minutes after going over the Falls. Other than a concussion and a small cut on her head, she was deemed okay. The fame she sought was short-lived, however. She made money posing for pictures with her barrel, but efforts by her manager to convince her to make appearances in venues she deemed unworthy were always in vain. Known as “The Heroine of Niagara Falls,” she died 20 years later, penniless, at the Niagara County Infirmary in Lockport, NY. There is now a law against going over the Falls, referred to as “stunting without a license.” The current fine is $10,000.


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