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.
Annie Edson Taylor
Annie Edson Taylor’s wild ride began on the US side of Niagara Falls just after 4 pm on October 24th, 1901. The 63-year-old school teacher climbed into a retrofitted pickle barrel. She ordered two assistants to seal it. Using a bicycle pump, the air pressure was compressed to 30 p.s.i. The barrel was rowed by boat to the middle of the river and released. It bobbed for a few moments, then caught by the fast-flowing current raced towards Horseshoe Falls.
For thousands of spectators on shore, the barrel looked ordinary enough – five feet tall, a little over 3 feet wide, made of white oak slats secured with iron rings. Inside, however, things were less ordinary. Taylor had equipped the barrel with a few features – cushions, a leather harness to keep her strapped to the sides, and a 200-pound anvil – ballast to keep the barrel upright as it charged towards the falls.
In Search of Elusive Fortune
Annie Edson Taylor was on the brink of a financial meltdown – a poor teacher facing retirement on meager savings. When she read a magazine article describing other daredevil attempts, the proverbial light bulb went on. A plunge over the falls – the first person to do so – would be just the thing to bring fame and fortune.
Two days before the launch, Taylor tested the barrel. She sealed her cat inside, then shot the animal over the falls. The cat survived with just a few scratches, and minutes after being pulled from the barrel posed with Taylor in a publicity photo.
Caught in the surging river, the barrel swept towards the falls, gaining speed and momentum. It shot over the precipice, disappearing momentarily in the mist before bobbing into view again. It drifted downstream, then came to rest against a rock, intact and largely unscathed.
Taylor’s crew retrieved the barrel and pried it open. The teacher emerged, in shock, slightly bruised, and but for a small cut to her head, largely uninjured.
Taylor’s wild ride lasted only 20 minutes, just long enough to secure her place in the record books. Newspapers around the nation featured her story:
The New York Times, October 25, 1901
WOMAN GOES OVER NIAGARA IN A BARREL
She Is Alive, but Suffering Greatly from Shock
Plunges from the Horseshoe Cataract —
— Thousands View the Attempt —
“Don’t Try It,” She Advises Others
Taylor’s dream of ongoing fame and fortune never quite materialized. Interest in her story waned quickly. She died in 1921, age 82, penniless and destitute. The Oakwood Cemetery Association in Niagara Falls, New York donated a grave to honor her place in Niagara Falls history.
While it is currently against the law to attempt a stunt at the Falls, over the years many objects – living and artificial – have taken the plunge, some successfully, but many more not. From people on rubber rafts and in steel barrels to tightrope walkers and bears in schooners, the Falls has been a magnet for thrill seekers. For a full list, check Wikipedia’s page List of Objects That Have Gone Over Niagara Falls.