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The First Barrel Ride Down Niagara Falls

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.

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