What do a retired school teacher, a stuntman, a barber, an African American and an unemployed man from Michigan have in common? The have all gone over Niagara Falls.
The descriptions of daredevils who survived their 170 foot drop over the Falls into the swirling, rocky waters below have varied from “similar to a free fall while sky diving” to sheer terror. Who would voluntarily put themselves in that kind of danger? Since 1901 sixteen people have challenged the Falls. Here are five of their stories.
The Heroine of Niagara Falls
In 1901, Annie Edson Taylor, a retired school teacher from Bay City Michigan was down on her luck. She thought that if she went over Niagara Falls in a barrel, the publicity would bring her fame and fortune. On October 24th, 1901, her 63rd birthday, Annie plunged over the Horseshoe Falls in an oak barrel with an anvil in the bottom for ballast, the first person to make the attempt. She survived and is quoted as saying, “Nobody ought do that again” Despite the widely spread publicity surrounding her feat, Annie made very little money and died penniless in 1921.
The English Stuntman
In 1911, Bobby Leach became the first man to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. He was a circus stuntman from Cornwall, England and he made the ride in an eight foot long steel barrel. It became stuck in the rocks at the base of the Falls which perhaps accounted for his broken jaw and two broken kneecaps. He toured the world with his barrel until his death in 1926, achieving the fame and fortune that had eluded Annie Taylor.
The Demon Barber of Bristol
Charles Stevens, a barber from Bristol England who fancied himself a stuntman, became the first person to die going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. His barrel was large and heavy with an anvil at the bottom to weigh it down. He strapped his arms to the sides and his feet to the anvil which, in retrospect, might not have been a good idea. When the barrel hit the rocks at the base of the Falls, the anvil broke through the bottom and pulled Stevens down with it. Only his right arm, still strapped to the barrel, was recovered.
In 1928 Jean Lussier became the first man to plunge over Niagara Falls in a rubber ball. He survived, as did Nathan Boyle in 1961. Boyle was the first African American to tame Niagara Falls and the second man to do it in a ball.
The Clothes On His Back
On October 20th, 2003, Kirk Jones became the first human in recorded history to survive a plunge over Niagara Falls with no protection of any kind. He survived with mild injuries and was arrested for his trouble.
It is now illegal to go over Niagara Falls. But one has to wonder if the threat of arrest and the accompanying $10,000 fine will be enough to deter those who see themselves as Daredevils of Niagara Falls.