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First Barrel Ride Down Niagara Falls

First Barrel Ride Down Niagara Falls

On October 24, 1901, a 63-year-old schoolteacher named Annie Edson Taylor becomes the first person to successfully take the plunge over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

After her husband died in the Civil War, the New York-born Taylor moved all over the U. S. before settling in Bay City, Michigan, around 1898. In July 1901, while reading an article about the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, she learned of the growing popularity of two enormous waterfalls located on the border of upstate New York and Canada. Strapped for cash and seeking fame, Taylor came up with the perfect attention-getting stunt: She would go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

READ MORE: A Daredevil History of Niagara Falls

Taylor was not the first person to attempt the plunge over the famous falls. In October 1829, Sam Patch, known as the Yankee Leaper, survived jumping down the 175-foot Horseshoe Falls of the Niagara River, on the Canadian side of the border. More than 70 years later, Taylor chose to take the ride on her birthday, October 24. (She claimed she was in her 40s, but genealogical records later showed she was 63.) With the help of two assistants, Taylor strapped herself into a leather harness inside an old wooden pickle barrel five feet high and three feet in diameter. With cushions lining the barrel to break her fall, Taylor was towed by a small boat into the middle of the fast-flowing Niagara River and cut loose.

Knocked violently from side to side by the rapids and then propelled over the edge of Horseshoe Falls, Taylor reached the shore alive, if a bit battered, around 20 minutes after her journey began. After a brief flurry of photo-ops and speaking engagements, Taylor’s fame cooled, and she was unable to make the fortune for which she had hoped. She did, however, inspire a number of copy-cat daredevils. Between 1901 and 1995, 15 people went over the falls; 10 of them survived. Among those who died were Jesse Sharp, who took the plunge in a kayak in 1990, and Robert Overcracker, who used a jet ski in 1995. No matter the method, going over Niagara Falls is illegal, and survivors face charges and stiff fines on either side of the border.


This Day in History: Oct 24, 1901: First barrel ride down Niagara Falls

On this day in 1901, a 63-year-old schoolteacher named Annie Edson Taylor becomes the first person to take the plunge over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

After her husband died in the Civil War, the New York-born Taylor moved all over the U. S. before settling in Bay City, Michigan, around 1898. In July 1901, while reading an article about the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, she learned of the growing popularity of two enormous waterfalls located on the border of upstate New York and Canada. Strapped for cash and seeking fame, Taylor came up with the perfect attention-getting stunt: She would go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

Taylor was not the first person to attempt the plunge over the famous falls. In October 1829, Sam Patch, known as the Yankee Leaper, survived jumping down the 175-foot Horseshoe Falls of the Niagara River, on the Canadian side of the border. More than 70 years later, Taylor chose to take the ride on her birthday, October 24. (She claimed she was in her 40s, but genealogical records later showed she was 63.) With the help of two assistants, Taylor strapped herself into a leather harness inside an old wooden pickle barrel five feet high and three feet in diameter. With cushions lining the barrel to break her fall, Taylor was towed by a small boat into the middle of the fast-flowing Niagara River and cut loose.

Knocked violently from side to side by the rapids and then propelled over the edge of Horseshoe Falls, Taylor reached the shore alive, if a bit battered, around 20 minutes after her journey began. After a brief flurry of photo-ops and speaking engagements, Taylor's fame cooled, and she was unable to make the fortune for which she had hoped. She did, however, inspire a number of copy-cat daredevils. Between 1901 and 1995, 15 people went over the falls 10 of them survived. Among those who died were Jesse Sharp, who took the plunge in a kayak in 1990, and Robert Overcracker, who used a jet ski in 1995. No matter the method, going over Niagara Falls is illegal, and survivors face charges and stiff fines on either side of the border.


The Daredevil of Niagara Falls

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed legislation permitting Nik Wallenda—self-proclaimed “King of the High Wire” and descendant of the legendary Flying Wallendas—to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Wallenda plans to run a cable, two inches thick and 2200 feet long, between two cranes raised 13 feet from the ground. To train, he will take wire walks over water near his Florida home while a caravan of airboats swarm around him, blasting winds up to 78 miles per hour to approximate the winds and spray of the falls. For the real thing, a rescue helicopter will hover nearby. “Worse-case scenario,” Wallenda said, “I sit down on the wire, the helicopter swoops in, I hook on and they get me out of there. I look goofy, but nobody gets hurt.”

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History’s most famous tightrope walker (or “ropedancer” or “funambulist,” in 19 th century parlance) performed without the luxury of such assurances. During the winter of 1858, a 34-year-old French acrobat named Jean François Gravelet, better known as Monsieur Charles Blondin, traveled to Niagara Falls hoping to become the first person to cross the “boiling cataract.” Noting the masses of ice and snow on either bank and the violent whirls of wind circling the gorge, Blondin delayed the grand event until he would have better weather. He always worked without a net, believing that preparing for disaster only made one more likely to occur. A rope 1,300 feet long, two inches in diameter and made entirely of hemp would be the sole thing separating him from the roiling waters below.

Blondin, born in 1824, grew to be only five feet five and 140 pounds he had bright blue eyes and golden hair (which gave him his nickname). He believed that a ropewalker was “like a poet, born and not made,” and discovered his calling at the age of four, mounting a rope strung between two chairs placed a few feet apart. The following year he enrolled at the École de Gymnase in Lyon. He first came to America in 1855 at the behest of theatrical agent William Niblo and was about to begin an engagement with Franconi’s Equestrian Troop when the idea struck to cross the falls. “He was more like a fantastic sprite than a human being,” wrote his manager, Harry Colcord. “Had he lived a century or two earlier he would have been treated as one possessed of a devil…. He could walk the rope as a bird cleaves to air.”

Blondin also understood the appeal of the morbid to the masses, and reveled when gamblers began to take bets on whether he would plunge to a watery death. (Most of the smart money said yes.) On the morning of June 30, 1859, about 25,000 thrill-seekers arrived by train and steamer and dispersed on the American or Canadian side of the falls, the latter said to have the better view. Both banks grew “fairly black” with swarms of spectators, among them statesmen, judges, clerics, generals, members of Congress, capitalists, artists, newspaper editors, professors, debutantes, salesmen and hucksters. Vendors hawked everything from lemonade to whiskey, and Colcord gave tours to the press, explaining the logistics of what the Great Blondin was about to attempt.

Blondin with his balancing pole. From "Blondin: His Life and Performances."

A light rope, not even an inch thick, had been attached to one end of his hempen cable so it could be conveyed across the Niagara River. On the American side the cable was wound around the trunk of an oak tree in White’s Pleasure Grounds, but securing it on the Canadian side presented a problem. Blondin’s assistants feared that the light rope wouldn’t bear the weight of the cable as it was drawn up the gorge for anchorage in Canada, but the rope dancer, to the delight of his audience, executed a daring solution.

After tying another rope around his waist, he rappelled 200 feet on the small rope, attached the second rope to the end of the cable, and then blithely climbed back to Canadian ground and secured the cable to a rock. To prevent swaying, guy ropes ran from the cable at 20-foot intervals to posts on both banks, creating the effect of a massive spider web. Blondin could do nothing, however, about the inevitable sag in its center, approximately 50 feet of cable to which it was impossible to fasten guy ropes. At that spot, in the middle of his crossing, he would be only 190 feet above the gorge. “There were hundreds of people examining the rope,” reported one witness, “and, with scarcely an exception, they all declared the inability of M. Blondin to perform the feat, the incapacity of the rope to sustain him, and that he deserved to be dashed to atoms for his desperate fool-hardiness.”

Shortly before 5 p.m., Blondin took his position on the American side, dressed in pink tights bedecked with spangles. The lowering sun made him appear as if clothed in light. He wore fine leather shoes with soft soles and brandished a balancing pole made of ash, 26 feet long and weighing nearly 50 pounds. Slowly, calmly, he started to walk. “His gait,” one man noted, “was very like the walk of some barnyard cock.” Children clung to their mothers’ legs women peeked from behind their parasols. Several onlookers fainted. About a third of the way across, Blondin shocked the crowd by sitting down on his cable and calling for the Maid of the Mist, the famed tourist vessel, to anchor momentarily beneath him. He cast down a line and hauled up a bottle of wine. He drank and started off again, breaking into a run after he passed the sagging center. While the band played “Home, Sweet Home,” Blondin reached Canada. One man helped pull him ashore and exclaimed, “I wouldn’t look at anything like that again for a million dollars.”

After 20 minutes of rest Blondin began the journey to the other side, this time with a Daguerreotype camera strapped to his back. He advanced 200 feet, affixed his balancing pole to the cable, untied his load, adjusted it in front of him and snapped a likeness of the crowd along the American side. Then he hoisted the camera back into place and continued on his way. The entire walk from bank to bank to bank took 23 minutes, and Blondin immediately announced an encore performance to take place on the Fourth of July.

Blondin and his camera, as rendered in "Blondin: His Life and Performances."

Not everyone admired Blondin’s feat. The New York Times condemned “such reckless and aimless exposure of life” and the “thoughtless people” who enjoyed “looking at a fellow creature in deadly peril.” Mark Twain later dismissed Blondin as “that adventurous ass.” One indignant resident of Niagara Falls insisted that he was a hoax, that there was “no such person in the world.” Nevertheless, on July 4, Blondin appeared at the American end of the cable, this time without his balancing pole. Halfway across, he lay down on the cable, flipped himself over, and began walking backward. He stopped again to take a swig from his flask, and then made it safely to the Canadian side. On the journey back he wore a sack over his body, depriving himself of sight. “One can scarcely believe that the feat was indeed real,” wrote one reporter, “and stands gazing upon the slender cord and the awful gulf in a state of utter bewilderment.… I look back upon it as upon a dream.”

Blondin and his sack, as rendered in "Blondin: His Life and Performances."

Blondin announced subsequent crossings, promising that each would be more daring than the last. On July 15, with President Millard Fillmore in attendance, Blondin walked backward to Canada and returned to the U.S. pushing a wheelbarrow. Two weeks later, he somersaulted and backflipped his way across, occasionally pausing to dangle from the cable by one hand. Shortly after that he made another crossing, and, after a brief rest, appeared on the Canadian end of the cable with Harry Colcord clinging to his back. Blondin gave his manager the following instructions: “Look up, Harry.… you are no longer Colcord, you are Blondin. Until I clear this place be a part of me, mind, body, and soul. If I sway, sway with me. Do not attempt to do any balancing yourself. If you do we will both go to our death.”

A few of the guy ropes snapped along the way, but they made it.

Blondin carrying Harry Colcord across Niagara Falls. From "Blondin: His Life and Performances."

He crossed at night, a locomotive headlight affixed to either each of the cable. He crossed with his body in shackles. He crossed carrying a table and chair, stopping in the middle to try to sit down and prop up his legs. The chair tumbled into the water. Blondin nearly followed but regained his composure. He sat down on the cable and ate a piece of cake, washed down with champagne. In his most famous exploit, he carried a stove and utensils on his back, walked to the center of the cable, started a fire and cooked an omelet. When it was ready, he lowered the breakfast to passengers on deck of the Maid of the Mist.

Blondin performed in China, Japan, Australia, India and throughout Europe. He soured on America in 1888 when he was forbidden to perform in Central Park and had to settle instead for St. George in Staten Island. Although he was then 65 years old, he carried his son and another man on his back and made another omelet for the crowd. By the time he gave his final performance, in 1896, it was estimated that Blondin had crossed Niagara Falls 300 times and walked more than 10,000 miles on his rope. He died of complications from diabetes the following year. In nearly 73 years on this earth, he never had life insurance. No one, he’d always joked, would take the risk.

Books: Blondin: His Life and Performances. Edited by G. Linnaeus Banks. London, New York: Routledge, Warne, and Routledge, 1862.


The First Barrel Ride Down Niagara Falls

If you’ve never been to Niagara Falls, you really must go! If you have been, you understand. It’s truly one of those things you have to see up-close and in person to fully appreciate. And if you are lucky enough to go, I strongly encourage you to take a ride on the Maid of the Mist. Seeing the falls from below is a whole other experience.

But what about taking a ride over the falls?

Once you see the massive power of the falls, you’d think someone would have to be crazy to do such a thing. But on October 24, 1901, a 63-year old schoolteacher named Annie Edson Taylor did just that, becoming the first person to take the plunge over Niagara Falls in a barrel. (I shouldn’t have to say it, but please don’t ever try this!)

Now why, you might ask, would Taylor do that? Fortune and glory, of course. In July 1901, while reading a news article, Taylor first learned of the growing popularity of two enormous waterfalls located on the border of upstate New York and Canada. Strapped for cash and seeking fame, Taylor concocted the perfect attention-grabbing stunt: going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. And she did it on her birthday to top it off.

With the help of two questionable assistants, Taylor strapped herself into a leather harness inside an old wooden pickle barrel measuring five feet high and three feet in diameter. Nothing but a few cushions lined the barrel to help soften the blow. Her two assistants then towed her by boat into the middle of the fast-flowing Niagara River and cut her loose. After being knocked violently from side to side fighting the rapids, she eventually propelled over the edge of the Horseshoe Falls. By some miracle, Taylor reached the shore alive.

Did Taylor find the fortune and fame she so desired? Not really. After a brief flurry of photo-ops and speaking engagements, Taylor’s fame fizzled, and she never made the fortune she so desired. She did, however, inspire a number of copy-cat daredevils.

Between 1901 and 1995, 15 people took the plunge, although just 10 lived to tell their story. In 1990, one such person went over the falls in a kayak, and another used a jet ski in 1995. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, neither lived.

While Taylor was the first person to plunge over the falls in a barrel, 70 years earlier, in 1829, Sam Patch, known as the Yankee Leaper, survived by jumping down the 175-foot Horseshoe Falls. No matter the method, going over Niagara Falls is both dangerous and illegal, and -- even if you are lucky enough to survive -- you may face criminal charges and stiff fines.


The Daredevils Who Challenged Nature

Over the years many daredevils have attempted to go over the falls by either jumping while inside barrels or walking on tightropes over the falls. In most of the cases, the daredevils survived while some plunged to death.

Annie Edison Taylor

Taylor was an American teacher born October 24, 1838, and on October 24, 1901, she became the first person to go over the Niagara Falls in a barrel and managed to survive the jump unharmed but suffered minor cuts. It was on her 63rd birthday when she attempted the stunt, and her motives were financial though she never made much money from the adventure.

Bobby Leach

On July 25, 1911, Bobby Leach went over the Niagara Falls in a barrel but sustained injuries as the aftermath. Leach fractured his jaw, broke his kneecaps and spent the next six months in the hospital recovering from his injuries.

On October 22nd, 2003, Kirk Jones went over the falls without any help in the fall. Jones had swum 91 meters before swimming over the falls becoming the first person to do so. Since Jones had been drinking before the incident and did not adhere to the protective measure, he was fined a fee of $2,300 and was banned for life from entering Canada.


The Story Behind the First Person to Survive a Barrel Ride Over Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is the Iguazu of North America—a natural wonder by any stretch of the imagination. Perched on the U.S.-Canadian border, 750,000 gallons of water tumble over it each second and tens of millions of visitors pose for pictures or extend selfie sticks in front of it yearly.

And while its serenity, beauty, and power may be the first things that strike you about the falls when you peek over the ledge for the first time, the second thing is likely, “I wonder if anyone’s ever survived a fall down it.” That might be because you’ve seen Superman II too many times—or it could be because you know your history. Because as long as there have been wonders of nature, there have been people willing to try to conquer them. And over time, those people associated with these death-defying acts of bravery have been men like Harry Houdini, Evel Knievel, Jackie Chan, the cast of Jackass, and most recently, Eddie Braun.

That fact makes the following story that much more amazing. Here’s the rather unlikely tale of 63-year-old schoolteacher, Annie Edson Taylor, a wooden pickle barrel and one of the greatest historical firsts for a woman. (Here’s looking at you, Hillary Clinton.)

According to the Buffalo News, in October 1901, Taylor was heading toward retirement with little to her name, so she decided to manufacture her own fortune by attempting a feat no woman or man had dared yet try: launching herself over Niagara Falls in a barrel. (Per the newspaper, Taylor wasn’t the first to perform a feat of daredevilishness in the area back in 1829, a man successfully survived a jump of 85 feet into the falls from a wooden platform.)

Her medium of travel was a converted pickle barrel, outfitted with just a leather seat belt, air hole, and some padding. After being towed by a boat and deposited into the Niagara River’s rapids, Taylor’s pickle barrel joyride paused for a 170-foot plunge, and then just 20 minutes later, she emerged, alive, at the base of Horseshoe Falls. She famously quipped, “No one ought ever do that again.”

The stunt was truly remarkable and put her in the history books, but it never brought her the financial reward she’d hoped for. Ironically, she spent a good deal of her feat’s earnings trying to get back her barrel from an event promoter who had stolen it. Says the newspaper, “ By the time Taylor died in 1921, she was penniless and living at the Niagara County Almshouse in Lockport.” Ouch.

For the Buffalo News‘ full story on Taylor, click here. For a complete history of crazy stunts that have been performed at Niagara Falls, watch the video below.

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11 Outrageous Moments in Niagara Falls Barrel-Riding

For decades, thrill-seekers have fought the odds and common sense by going over the world’s most famous waterfalls in rickety containers—a trip that has claimed several lives.

1. 63-Year-Old Takes the Plunge

The strange custom of going down Niagara Falls in a barrel began with an elderly music and dance teacher named Annie Edson Taylor. Hoping the stunt would make her rich and famous, she had a customized unit made which included safety straps and a breathing tube. On October 24, 1901—her 63rd birthday—her preparation paid off when she survived her trip, only to wait 20 gut-wrenching minutes for a rescue boat to nab the contraption. Unfortunately, she achieved neither fame nor fortune and died penniless in 1921.

2. Bobby Leach and the Deadly Orange Peel

Irony, thy name is Leach! This British circus performer repeated Taylor’s death-defying antics in 1911. Though battered and bruised, he lived to tell the tale … only to die of medical complications after slipping on an orange peel 15 years later.

3. Charles G. Stephens Goes Out on a Limb

Charles G. Stephens was the first casualty of Niagara’s dangerous sport. Believing it would make his trip safer, the middle-aged barber tied his right arm to the specialized vessel—which is all that was found of him after it broke apart. Stephens’ severed appendage received a proper burial at a nearby cemetery.

4. Hill to the Rescue

Between 1910 and 1942, if you wanted to follow in Taylor’s footsteps, Red Hill Sr. was the man to see. Though he never tried besting the falls himself, it was Hill who rescued Leach and tried to warn Stephens about his treacherous barrel. An accomplished stuntman in his own right, Hill most notably ventured through the deadly Niagara whirlpool in 1930, securing his place in the Daredevil Hall of Fame.

5. Have a Ball!

Barrels just don’t cut it for some adrenaline junkies. Enter Jean Lussier of New Hampshire. Hearing of Stephens’ plight, Lussier decided to forego traditional methods and invested his life savings in a gigantic rubber ball. The summer of 1928 saw thousands of spectators gather to witness its maiden voyage. Lussier’s journey was a triumphant success and he decided to stay in the region, selling off pieces of the historic sphere to eager tourists.

6. The World’s Luckiest Turtle

George L. Stathakis may have sealed his doom by telling the press that if he didn’t survive his upcoming ride over the falls, his pet turtle, “Sonny Boy," who went with him, would live on to tell their story. Lo and behold, the fortunate reptile made it out alive—which was more than could be said for his owner. Sonny Boy, however, declined to comment.

7. Disaster at the Astrodome

The following news bulletin was filmed in July 1984, after 37-year-old Canadian Karl Soucek cascaded down Niagara’s Horseshoe Falls.

His efforts to replicate the feat at the Houston Astrodome that winter turned deadly when he crashed onto the rim of the water tank he was supposed to land in after a 180-foot drop, fracturing his skull and crushing his abdomen.

8. Super Dave Can’t Be Stopped!

Who was the first man to go over Niagara Falls twice? Unsatisfied with his first barrel ride in 1985, John “Super Dave” Munday returned to give it another go in 1993.

9. “Say ‘No’ to Drugs!”

Educators, take note: There are easier ways to denounce substance abuse than climbing into a 3000-pound steel barrel and dropping down a waterfall. This ill-conceived strategy belonged to Peter DeBernardi and Jeffrey Petkovich, who became the first duo to take the Niagara plunge in 1989. Inscribed on the side of their bright yellow cylinder was the helpful slogan “Don’t Put Yourself on the Edge—Drugs Will Kill You!”

10. David Copperfield’s Televised Escape

“Over the years, a number of people have tried to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel,” magician David Copperfield said in a 1990 TV special. "Many died trying. But guess what? I don’t plan on joining them.” His elaborate performance, involving chains, flames, and a helicopter, can be seen here:

11. Of Parachutes & Jet Skis

Like DeBernardi and Petkovich, Robert Overcracker wanted to raise awareness about a pressing issue: homelessness. Knowing a Jet Ski would attract more attention than a boring old barrel, Overcracker rode over the peak before plummeting to his death when the specially-designed parachute he’d brought failed to open.


The First Person To Go Over Niagara Falls In A Barrel Did It All For Fame

Some people don’t get the credit they deserve for their bold choices and brave actions. Sometimes they don’t want any credit and do a good deed just for the sake of doing it. Other times though, when a person is about to make history, I believe they deserve some credit. That is the case for 63-year-old Annie Edson Taylor. She was a fragile Victorian daredevil to say the least. She was the first woman to take a barrel ride down Niagara Falls, and survive to tell the world her story. You may have heard about her and her name, but I am sure you don’t know the powerful story that lead her to the 175 foot drop down the popular waterfall. Let’s talk a walk together down history lane to learn more about the poor credited Annie Taylor.

Wikipedia

Annie, unfortunately didn’t have a very pleasant life. It seemed like life was out to get her a lot of times. Luck just wasn’t on her side. She grew up in a family of 8 kids. She lost her father at a very young age. She decided to push forward and went to school to be a teacher. Annie fell in love and got married. Unfortunately tragedy struck again when her only child died followed by her husband shortly after. But again, she wasn’t going to give up.

niagarafallslive

Due to her drastic losses, she was just trying to get by as a widow. She moved from city to city and worked at a multitude of different jobs. She knew, in order to avoid complete poverty, that she needed to do something drastic to change her life.

autographsforsale

She had read in the news about crazy dare devils and their mind-blowing stunts. She then decided that was her calling. She pitched her crazy idea to an agent named Frank Russell. They went to Niagara Falls to try to convince the officials that she should do this stunt.

Legacy

Because a few other daredevils have attempted this nutty stunt and didn’t survive, Annie had to prove herself to the officials. In order to do so, she wanted to do a test run with a cat. Miraculously, the cat survived the fall with only a few minor head injuries.

History

Now, it was Annie’s turn. As she hoped, according to the New York Times, there were thousands of people at the bottom of the falls there to witness the event. There was a lot of skepticism that she would even survive. So much so that even her agent, Frank, was told if she didn’t survive he would be prosecuted in her death.

B&B Niagara

The task of finding people to push the 200lb barrel out into the waters delayed the event. But eventually Annie was in position in her 1.4 by 1 meter barrel. It was weighed down by a 200lb steel anvil to keep the barrel standing upright. And just like that she was off, descending down the massive drop, possibly a suicide attempt.

Wikimedia

A dreadful 20 minutes after the fall, the barrel was seen bobbing in the water. Annie had miraculously survived the plunge uninjured, except for a small gash on her head. She was knocked unconscious after the drop but walked herself safely back to the river bank. She is quoted telling reporters ‘I prayed every second I was in the barrel except for a few seconds after the fall when I went unconscious. Nobody ought ever to do that again. If it was with my dying breath, I would caution anyone against attempting the feat. I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the Fall’

Wikipedia

Unfortunately, for Annie, her bad luck found her again. Her barrel was immediately stolen by her agent Frank and he traveled and lied to people telling them the woman who completed the stunt was half of Annie’s age. Annie spent the rest of her money hiring private detectives to find the barrel, but unfortunately it was never discovered.

History By Zim

Annie, finished her heroic life by posing for post cards at Niagara Falls, not the goal she had in mind. She did attempt to do the Cararact Falls, and wrote a book about the experience. But unfortunately for her, the footage was lost and her proof was no longer valid. I think it is safe to say that Annie deserves more than she was ever given credit for.


Hesham Sayegh (1981)

Unfortunately, we're going to follow Roger Woodward being saved with an even smaller child being killed. In the late summer of 1981, 28-year-old Dunia Sayegh was visiting the Canadian Horseshoe Falls with her 2-month-old son, Hesham, in her arms. You can already see where this one is going, but it takes an even darker twist. Yes, we're very sad to say that little Hesham slipped from his mother's arms and plunged to his death over Niagara Falls.

But then the young mother was brought to trial, suspected of intentionally throwing her infant to his demise. Dunia claimed to have suffered from a dizzy spell and said she simply dropped her young son. Why she was standing so close to the railing while holding him is another matter entirely, but the presiding judge eventually dismissed a charge of manslaughter and set her free. Considering her friends claimed that she lived for her new baby and had previously worried about his health to the point that her doctor had to prescribe her medication to help her relax, losing him to Niagara Falls certainly seems like far more punishment than she probably deserved.


Roger Woodward

Roger Woodward was neither a daredevil nor a stunt man, although he was the first person to survive a plunge over the Horseshoe Falls not in a barrel.

On July 9th 1960, seven year old Roger Woodward and his 17 year old sister Deanne, both of Niagara Falls, New York set out on a boat ride through the upper Niagara River with family friend James Honeycutt.

Honeycutt, age 40, of Raleigh, North Carolina, was a contractor at the Niagara Parks Commission hydro project. An afternoon of boating was nothing out of the ordinary since Honeycutt had often taken them out. His boat was a 4.3 metre long aluminium boat with a seven and a half horsepower outboard motor.

They began the boat ride about 8 km upstream of the Falls. This is also the location of the Lynch Trailer Camp (American Shoreline), where Honeycutt was.

Approximately 1.6 km before the brink of Horseshoe Falls, Honeycutt was turning the boat around when the motor malfunctioned and ceased running. While examining the engine, Honeycutt discovered that the propeller pin had cut off. Honeycutt began to frantically row in the direction of the shore but the strong current was carrying the boat swiftly towards the Falls. Honeycutt ordered the Woodward children to put on their life-preservers, although he too busy rowing to put his on.

Near the Falls the waves capsized the boat separating Deanne from both Roger and Mr. Honeycutt. Deanne held onto the side of the boat until a wave forced her under water. When she surfaced, she saw two men standing on the shore. John Hayes and John Quattrochi were visiting Terrapin Point on Goat Island when Hayes saw Deanne in the water. Hayes grabbed Deanne by her fingers and called for help from Quattrochi. Both men successfully pulled Deanne from the water.

Roger Woodward was in Honeycutt’s arms until the raging water pulled them apart as they rode over the crest of the Falls. The shoes Roger was wearing ripped from his feet on his way down the cascade. Woodward was forced into the deep water at the base of the Falls but was quickly floated to the surface, due to his life-preserver.

The crew of the Maid of the Mist spotted tiny Roger Woodward bobbing up and down in the water. Captain Clifford Keech was at the wheel of the Maid of the Mist II. After eight minutes and three approaches, they finally rescued Roger Woodward by using a life ring.

Roger Woodward was taken to the Greater Niagara General Hospital in Niagara Falls, Ontario. He sustained only minor cuts and bruises. Deanne Woodward was taken to Memorial Hospital in Niagara Falls, New York suffering from nothing more than shock. James Honeycutt drowned to death.


Vintage Everyday

Niagara has had many different faces since the arrival of the Europeans in the late 17th century. Perhaps the most exciting and missed period of Niagara's rich history deals with the "daredevils." A daredevil is one who decides risk his or her life for fame with necessary precautions and survive. The late 19th century Niagara saw the arrival of a new breed of adventurer who was ready, willing and able to go over the falls or walk over the falls for a few brief minutes of fame.

The long list of Niagara Falls daredevil history starts with Annie Taylor and the spirit of adventure continues in various forms in Niagara Falls. Due to various reasons stunting and adventures were banned in Niagara Falls till Nik Wallanda's Historic Wire Walk over the Falls in 2012, which was started with James Hardy in 1896. Their daring acts are chronicled here in the daredevil gallery below.

1. Annie Taylor – First Person to Go Over the Falls

On October 24th, 1901 Annie Taylor became the first person and the first woman to go over the falls in a barrel and survive. Ms Taylor, a 63 year old school teacher from Michigan, accompanied by her cat, decided to tempt fate in an effort to gain fame and fortune.

The Pan American Exposition was taking place in Buffalo, New York and Ms. Taylor felt she would be able to attract a huge crowd. On the afternoon of October 24th, 1901 a small boat towed the barrel containing Ms. Taylor and her cat into the main stream of the Niagara River where it was cut loose.

At approximately 4:30 p.m. the barrel was seen edging over the brink, only to reappear less than a minute laterwhere it was seen floating at the base of the falls. Fifteen minutes later the barrel reappeared close to the Canadian shore, where it was dragged to a rock and the barrel lid removed.

To everyone's amazement, Annie Taylor emerged from her barrel, dazed but triumphant. Her only injury was a cut on her forehead that she received while being extracted from her barrel.

Mrs. Annie Edson Taylor was the first person to ever go over the Mighty Niagara Falls and survive and she undoubtedly found the fame that she had been seeking.

For many years after this event she sold mementos of her feat on the streets of Niagara Falls, claiming that she would never attempt another journey over the falls, preferring to walk into the mouth of a cannon. Unfortunately, while Annie Taylor may have found the fame that she desperately sought, she did not find the fortune. She passed away in 1921, poor and destitute.


2. Bobby Leach – First Man to Go Over the Falls

An Englishman named Bobby Leach successfully made a trip over the falls in a steel barrel and was the first man to ever do so. Leach had been a performer with the Barnum and Bailey Circus and was no stranger to stunting. Prior to his trip over the falls he owned a restaurant on Bridge Street and would boast to customers that anything Annie could do. he could do better.

On July 25th, 1911 he took the plunge over the falls and spent the next six months recuperating in hospital from various fractures and contusions he suffered during his ordeal. After surviving the plunge he went on to make a good living by touring vaudeville theatres and lecture halls, recounting his harrowing experience, and displaying his barrel.

Leach returned to Niagara Falls, New York in 1920 and operated a pool hall. While in his sixties he attempted to swim the whirlpool rapids but failed after several attempts. During these aborted attempts, Bobbie Leach was rescued by Red Hill Sr., a riverman, who knew the Falls well. Red Hill Sr. would also become well known in the area for later rescues, and a son, Red Hill Jr. would also attempt a journey over the brink.

Unlike Annie Taylor before him, Bobby Leach attained some success from his endeavour. For several years he toured Canada, the United States and England, recounting his harrowing journey at vaudeville shows and lecture halls, exhibiting his barrel and posing for pictures.

Luck would run out for Bobby Leach fifteen years later, when he slipped on an orange peel and broke his leg while on a lecture tour in New Zealand. Unfortunately the first man to ever brave the Mighty Niagara and live to tell the tale succumbed to complications from his injury.


3. Charles Stephens – First to Die

The first daredevil to lose his life going over the falls was Charles Stephens. Stephens, a barber with eleven children, hoped that the fame and fortune that such a stunt would bring would help to alleviate his family from poverty. He was gravely mistaken.

Early on the morning of July 11th, 1920 he began his journey. Charles G. Stephens was the first daredevil to lose his life going over the falls.

Stephens, a 58 year old barber with eleven children, hoped that the fame and fortune that such a stunt would bring would help to alleviate his family from poverty. He was gravely mistaken. Early on the morning of July 11th, 1920 he began his journey. Stephens had built a massive wooden barrel for the trip over the falls.

Thousands watched that morning in July as Stephens barrel crested over the falls and then within seconds broke into pieces upon impact at the base of the Horseshoe Falls.

Stephens had made a fatal mistake of attaching an anvil to his feet. All that was found of Mr. Stephens was his arm, identified by a number of tattoos, still strapped into the harness. The Mighty Niagara had claimed it's first daredevil!


4. Jean Lussier – First to Go Over in Rubber Ball

Jean Albert Lussier took the plunge over Niagara Falls on July 4, Lussier, of Springfield, Massachusetts was a 36 year old machinist.

Lussier was born in Concord, New Hampshire to French Canadian parents. He moved back to Quebec at an early age but returned to the United States to become more fluent in English.

When he heard about Charles Stephen's tragic death at Niagara he became interested and shortly thereafter went on vacation to Niagara Falls to learn more about attempting a trip himself.

He began to design and build his own vessel, which was not exactly a barrel but rather a rubber ball. He was the first daredevil to ever choose an inflated apparatus rather then the usual wood barrel type of design.

Lussier's rubber ball was six feet in diameter with inner and outer steel bands for reinforcement. The inside of the ball was lined with three dozen inner tubes with a space in the center for Lussier. A 150 lb rubber ballast was built into the bottom of the ball to keep it from spinning. Jean Albert Lussierbeing helped on shore after his plunge over the falls.

He would later try to capitalize on his adventure by moving to Niagara Falls, New York and selling pieces off his "rubber ball" to tourists for 50 cents a piece. When the original rubber was used up he would find discarded inner tubes. To the locals he seemed to have a never-ending supply.

Lussier would later describe his trip over the falls as smooth, and often spoke of making a return trip over the falls. Lussier died in 1971 of natural causes in Niagara Falls, New York.


5. George Stakathis – Second to Die From the Plunge

George A. Stathakis lived in Buffalo, New York where he worked as a chef after emigrating from Greece. He was 46 years old and a bachelor when he made the decision to go over the falls in a barrel. He hoped that the revenue that such a trip would generate could be used towards the publication of his books on metaphysical experiences.

With the help of some of his friends George set about building a massive barrel made of wood and steel. Ten feet long and over 5 ft. in diameter, George had been previously warned by Red Hill Sr. that the barrel was too big and heavy, weighing nearly a ton.

On July 5th, 1930 George Stathakis, along with his pet turtle Sonny took the plunge over the falls. His barrel would survive the ride, relatively unscathed, but would be caught behind the falls for over twenty hours.

When finally the barrel was recovered George Stathakis was dead, apparently suffocated. His pet turtle Sonny, believed to be 150 years old, had miraculously survived the trip.

The barrel where George Stathaki met his untimely death is on display in Niagara Falls

Of all the barrels to go over the falls, George Stathakis's barrel was the only one to become held up behind the falls. Perhaps the massive barrel that Mr. Stathakis thought would protect him from harm actually contributed to his death.


6. Willian "Red" Hill (aka. Red Hill Jr.) – Third to Die From the Plunge

Red Hill Jr. was no stranger to the Niagara Falls and the power it possessed. His father Red Hill Sr. was well known in the area. He had helped rescue several people from the Niagara River, but he had never actually attempted a trip over the falls.

One of his sons, Red Jr. was slightly more foolhardy than the elder Hill. In July of 1950 Red Jr. announced to the media that the following year he would go over the Horseshoe Falls in a ball, similar to the one used by Jean Lussier in 1928.

Lloyd, the younger of the two, was not going to be upstaged by his older brother and decided to attempt the journey in 1950 in a steel barrel. His attempt was thwarted when his barrel was caught in a weir used by the Canadian Power Plant. After his rescue, the barrel slipped into the river and disappeared, unoccupied over the falls.

The following Summer Red Jr. followed through with his announcement, except unlike his brother, he chose not a steel barrel, but instead a contraption that he referred to as the "thing".

Some claimed it to be a rubber ball, but in fact it was fourteen rubber truck tire inner tubes covered with heavy canvas and held together with a thick net. The ends were packed with even more inner tubes and Red Jr. was held in place with even more inner tubes.

He was also equipped with a hose and mask so he would be able to get air if needed. 38 year old William (Red) Jr. had every intention of surviving the rapids that fateful day in August 1951. He joked to reporters that if the wind is right, and I can get the breaks, then I'll come out OK.

At 2:30 p.m. on August 5th, 1951 Red Hill climbed into his homemade contraption and began his trip from Usher's Creek, about a mile above the falls. At 3:05 p.m. Hill's "Thing" was spotted going over the brink and disappearing into the mist and thundering water below. Ten minutes latter, Hill"s "Thing" was recovered, tattered and torn apart. Four inner tubes had been torn loose and the netting was in tatters. Inside the only evidence of Red Hill Jr. were his shoes. The next day, August 6th, 1951, searchers pulled Hills battered body from the river.


7. William Fitzgerald (aka. Nathan Boya) – First Black Man to Go Over the Falls

Shortly before 11:00 a.m. on July 15, 1961 a large dark "ball" floated down the Niagara River and over the Falls. When retrieved by Maid of the Mist employees, the man who identified himself as Nathan Boya emerged from this 544 kg, 3m diameter rubber ball with inflated cushions wedged inside to add buoyancy. His ball, which came to be known as the "Plunge-O-Sphere" made its journey successfully over the falls.

Niagara Parks Police were there to greet him and as a result Boya has the distinction of being the first person to be charged and convicted under the Niagara Parks Act.

Boya was fined $100 and costs of $13. He gave no explanation for his trip, simply saying, "I had to do it, I wanted to do it, and I am glad I did it." Today Fitzgerald lives in the New York City area.


8. Karel Soucek – First Non-American to Go Over the Falls

Karel Soucek was a 37 yr old stuntman from Hamilton Ontario. Prior to his trip over the falls he had performed stunts such as jumping motorcycles over cars. He had also previously tried to cross the Whirlpool Rapids on a moped using the lines from the Spanish Aerocar. In 1976.

His attempt was thwarted when his moped hit a metal bolt on the cable. If not for his safety harness Soucek would have surely perished that day.

Early on the morning of July 2, 1984 an unimposing cube van pulled up to a retaining wall above the falls, and several men quickly went to work.

A plywood ramp was leaned against the retaining wall, and the barrel quickly slid into the river only 164 yds above the Horseshoe Falls.

Forty five minutes after Soucek's barrel was seen edging over the brink his companions were able to secure the barrel and release it's occupant.

His 2.7m long 1.5m diameter cylindrical-shaped barrel with fibreglass mouldings at either end was insulated with liquid foam. Equipped with a snorkel for breathing and two eye holes to look out, his trip took approximately 3.2 seconds. But he then became trapped in dangerous waters below the Falls inside his bright red barrel. After 45 minutes he was rescued by his ground crew, suffering cuts and bruises, an injury to his left arm and a chipped tooth. He was fined $500 for his stunt.

Barely six months latter, Soucek attempted to repeat his harrowing plunge over the falls at the Houston Astrodome by dropping himself, inside a wooden barrel, 180 ft. into a 10 foot pool of water.

Unfortunately for Karel Soucek the barrel hit the edge of the pool and Soucek succumbed to injuries he suffered in the fall. His tombstone reads "IT IS NOT WHETHER YOU FAIL OR TRIUMPH, IT'S THAT YOU KEEP YOUR WORD AND AT LEAST TRY."


9. Steve Trotter – Youngest Person to Go Over the Falls

Next to go over Niagara was a 22 year old part-time bartender from Barrington, Rhode Island. In a device made of two plastic pickle barrels surrounded by large inner tubes and covered by a tarpaulin, he made his successful plunge at 8:30 a.m. on August 18, 1985.

Emerging uninjured from his home-made barrel inscribed with "Support Reagan", referring to then US President Ronald Reagan, Trotter became the youngest man to survive the plunge. Two of the large inner tubes had deflated and a large dent was made in the side. The hatch was blown off but Steve Trotter managed to swim free of the craft and was picked up by the crew aboard The Maid of the Mist. Trotter, like previous daredevils, was fined. During a media conference Trotter would latter state the trip was "cool. like dropping in an elevator without a cable." He made a few television appearances and seemingly disappeared from the public eye until a dramatic reappearance in the summer of 1995.

On June 18,1995 Trotter teamed up with friend Lori Martin, a 29 year old woman from Atlanta, Georgia for the first "co-ed" barrel ride over the Falls.

Their 3.6 m (12ft) barrel was made from two pieces of hot water heater tanks welded together and coated by Kevlar. It weighed together in at 408 kg (900lbs) and was reported to have costs $19,000. A Florida investment banker funded this stunt. The barrel was equipped with 4 oxygen tanks containing enough air to last for up to one hour and 20 minutes.

Launched shortly before 9:30 a.m. approximately 91m from the brink of the Horseshoe Falls, it went over the Falls and became lodged in a rock crevice. Members of the Niagara Falls Fire Department, along with the Niagara Parks Police, had to climb over a guard rail in the tunnels to reach the trapped barrel and secure it to shore with a line. They then undid the hatch and pulled out Martin who was wearing knee pads and protective clothing Trotter climbed out afterwards.

The barrel was trapped for nine days and was then removed by a crane for safety reasons. It remained with the Niagara Parks Commission for several weeks before weeks before Trotter returned to reclaim it, paying the costs that were incurred in retrieving it from below the Falls.


10. Dave Munday – First to Go Over the Falls Twice

On October 5, 1985 , two months after his first attempt to conquer the Horseshoe Falls was foiled by the Niagara Parks Police, John "David" Munday finally succeeded. Dressed in blue coveralls, this 48-year-old mechanic from Caistor Centre made his trip in a seven foot long, four foot diameter steel barrel. Lined with aluminum separated by foam, it was painted silver with a red maple leaf on the outside. His barrel, which included video and radio equipment, cost him $16,000 to build.

After the plunge, Munday's barrel was retrieved by his assistants below the Falls just outside the observation platform of the Table Rock Scenic Tunnels. Emerging from his barrel and climbing up over the slippery rocks, he was cheered by his crew and a few local members of the news media. Munday was the tenth person to survive the trip.

On July 15,1990 Munday once again attempted to go over the Horseshoe Falls in a "no frills" 179kg (394lb) steel barrel. The barrel became stranded by low water on the brink of the Falls and was eventually fished out by a cable attached to a crane.

On September 27,1993 John "Dave" Monday became the first person to go over the Falls twice. The 56 year old man accomplished his feat using a red and white home-made steel barrel.

At 8:35 a.m. Munday's 1.2m diameter steel ball, complete with a red maple leaf painted on the side, floated to the brink and plunged 55m into the churning waters below.

He entered the water about 100m above the falls. It took approximately five seconds to make the plunge. Once over the Falls, the barrel was towed by the Little Maid to the Maid of the Mist dock. Before emerging, he remained in the barrel approximately 45 minutes. He sustained no major injuries and he refused to go to the hospital. Munday was not wearing a protective helmet and there was only a 2 inch layer of padding inside the ball to soften the impact.


11-12. Peter Debernardi and Jeffrey Petkovich – First Pair to Go Over the Falls

Peter Debernardi and Geoffrey Petkovich both of Niagara Falls were the first team to go over in the same barrel. Positioned head to head in the ten foot 3000 lb 12 ft reinforced steel barrel, containing harness straps and two oxygen tanks. On the side of the barrel were the words " Don't put yourself on the Edge - Drugs will kill you". Small plexi-glass windows enabled DeBernardi to videotape the entire stunt. The contraption was launched into the Niagara River from the back of a truck at approximately 150 metres (492 ft) above the Canadian Horseshoe Falls.

Once over the Falls, it crested and floated for several minutes close to the base. And nearing the Canadian shore, members of the daredevil's support crew snagged it with grappling hooks. When the hatch was opened, Debernadi and Petkovich emerged with minor injuries. Climbing the bank to the Scenic Tunnels, they refused medical attention and were transported to the Niagara Parks Police Office. Here they were charged with infractions under the Niagara Parks Act.

DeBernardi was quoted as saying that it was a small price to pay to be immortalized in the history books. To discourage future stunters the fine for anyone attempting a stunt was raised to a maximum of $10,000, and the ability to confiscate the stunters barrels.


13. Jesse Sharp – Fourth to Die From the Plunge

Jessie W. Sharp, a 28 year old bachelor from Ocoee, Tennessee attempted to ride over the brink of the Horseshoe Falls in a 3.6m long kayak on June 5,1990. Sharp, unemployed at the time, was an experienced white water kayaker. Three people who accompanied Sharp to Niagara Falls to video-tape his trip told police that Mr. Sharp had been planning the trip for years. They also told police that Sharp was attempting to go over the Falls in the kayak to advance his career in stunting.

Sharps idea was to gain enough speed in his kayak to project himself over the falls and the pummeling water that would surely claim his life. He would then transverse the rapids below eventually ending up four miles downstream in Lewiston. So confident was Jesse about making the trip that he parked his car at Artpark in Lewiston and made dinner reservations for that evening.

Powerhouse operators, noticing what was about to unfold, diverted water from the river in an attempt to ground the kayaker. But to no avail, Jesse Sharp was determined, and simply skirted around the rocks in his kayak. Just as Sharp reached the brink of the falls he raised his paddle above his head and then, at 1:45 pm, the kayak plummeted over the brink and vanished into the raging waters below.

Sharp did not wear a protective helmet so his face would be visible on film. He also didn't wish to wear a life jacket, believing it would interfere with his ability to escape in the event that he was caught underneath the Falls. After "shooting the Falls", he intended to continue down river through the rapids to Lewiston, New York. He had made dinner reservations there. His body has never been recovered.

Robert Overacker, a 39-year-old man from Camarillo, California, went over the Canadian Horseshoe Falls at approximately 12:35 p.m. on October 1st, 1995 on a single jet ski.

Entering the Niagara River near the Canadian Niagara Power Plant, he started skiing toward the Falls. At the brink, he attempted to discharge a rocket propelled parachute that was on his back. It failed to discharge. His brother and a friend witnessed the stunt.

At first it seemed that he had survived the plunge, but the rapids have a strange way of flailing a corpses' arms around, often giving the appearance of a person swimming. Robert Overacker was later retrieved from the water, taken to Niagara General Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

His body was recovered by Maid of the Mist staff. Overacker, married with no children, became the fifteenth person since 1901 to intentionally go over the Falls in or on a device.