Niagara Falls Stunts: Five Things You Didn’t Know

Annie Edson Taylor and the barrel she used to go over Niagara Falls in 1901. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
Annie Edson Taylor and the barrel she used to go over Niagara Falls in 1901. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1901, Annie Edson Taylor became the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

Here are five things you probably didn’t know about Taylor and Niagara Falls stunts.

Taylor, a 63-year-old widow, decided to go over the falls as a means of making money for her later years. She had a barrel custom built for her stunt. It was built of oak and iron and was padded with a mattress inside. She had problems securing assistance because people doubted she would survive that fall, and didn’t want to be part of her death. Two days before her attempt, she sent a cat over the falls in the barrel as a test. The cat suffered a gash on the head, but survived.

On October 24, she climbed into the barrel with her lucky heart-shaped pillow, while assistants screwed the lid down and used a bicycle pump to compress the air in the barrel and set her adrift above the falls. She went over the Horseshoe Falls, and was discovered alive by rescuers. She was uninjured, except for a gash on her head, much like that of the cat.

Following the stunt, she set out on a speaking tour, talking about her experience. Her manager ran away with her barrel and she used most of her savings trying to find it. She later worked as a clairvoyant and a magnetic therapist before dying in 1921 at the age of 82.

While Taylor was the first to go over the Falls and survive, she wasn’t the first to pull a stunt there.

In 1859, Jean Francois Gravelet, a Frenchman known as The Great Blondin, walked across the gorge on a tightrope. On his first crossing, he lowered a rope to a boat below to haul up a beverage, which he drank at the midpoint. He also executed a back somersault on that crossing. In subsequent crossings, he crossed on a bicycle, walked blindfolded, pushed a wheelbarrow, crossed with his hands and feet manacled, and cooked an omelette in the center. He later crossed the falls with his manager on his back.

In 1860, a Canadian named William Hunt crossed with an early washing machine strapped to his back.

The first American to cross was Harry Leslie, who crossed at the Whirlpool Rapids gorge.

In 1867, Maria Spelterina, of Italy, became the first, and so far only, woman to cross the gorge on a tightrope. She crossed backwards, with a paper bag over her head and with peach baskets on her feet.

The first person to die while tightrope walking the gorge was Stephen Peer of Canada. He made several successful crossings, but his body was found on the rocks below a few days after his last crossing on June 25, 1887. It’s believed that he fell while attempting to cross at night while wearing street shoes.

Clifford Calverley of Toronto, set the record for fastest crossing by making the trip in 6 minutes, 32.5 seconds.

The last crossing for 116 years was made by 21-year-old James Hardy in 1896. After that, all tightrope displays were banned.

In 2012, American and Canadian authorities agreed to allow Nik Wallenda to attempt crossing the falls on a tightrope. Wallenda’s attempt was the first over the falls themselves. It was also much longer than other crossings, at about 1,800 feet. Wallenda was successful and crossed the falls in about 25 minutes. The Canadian parks department says it doesn’t expect to approve another tightrope crossing for at least 20 years.

Our question: Niagara Falls is located between which two Great Lakes?


Today is World Polio Day, United Nations Day, and Independence Day in Zambia.

It’s unofficially National Crazy Day, and National Bologna Day.

It’s the birthday of musician JP Richardson, better known as The Big Bopper, who was born in 1930; actor Kevin Kline, who is 69; and rapper Drake, who is 30.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1966, the top song in the U.S. was “96 Tears” by Question Mark and the Mysterians.

The No. 1 movie was “Spinout,” while the novel “Valley of the Dolls” by Jacqueline Susann topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Weekly question

Matthew Webb, who died trying to swim the Niagara River rapids, was the first person to complete what swimming feat?



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