Niagara Falls

 

DAREDEVILS OF NIAGARA FALLS

 

a history

 

 

 

Daredevils can be best summarized as persons who wish to take conscious risks with their lives with the emphasis on survival. However, some risks are so great that the chances of survival based upon a balance of probabilities become so little that they become suicidal in nature. It may be a thin line of definition but a line none the less. Now days, the art of being a daredevil has become so sophisticated that chances of survival are almost predictable. 

Most of the contraptions that the daredevils used usually had a nickname or had a statement printed on it (such as something political, a charity, and a sponsor or of course their own name). The numbers never really were an issue. Weight, balance, ballast and of course the odds of survival were the only true numbers the daredevils cared much for. Most importantly they pursued fame and fortune or notoriety. None have ever become rich and/or lastingly famous....yet.

If you weren't the very first, remarkably the members of the public didn't care beyond perhaps watching the event. Spectators came not watching for a successful conclusion but rather the deadly consequences of failure.

Daredevils of today can't compare to those of forty years ago because of changing water conditions and technological innovations. Niagara Falls has 12-15 suicides each year. This number has been fairly constant for the past century. The difference between the two types of persons is that by pure luck...someone may survive. If they do survive, they are considered a daredevil.
 

 

 

 

The Daredevils of Niagara - PowerPoint Presentation

A Power Point Presentation -16 mb

 

 

 

 

It wasn't until some years after the bitter fighting along the shores of the Niagara River during the War of 1812, that Niagara started to come into its own as a tourist attraction.

By the 1820's there were three hotels catering to the visitors of Niagara Falls. The hotel owners were responsible for the first stunt over the Falls in order to attract attention of members of the public and to boost the tourist trade.

The hotel owners acquired a condemned Lake Erie schooner named the "Michigan". The hotel owners then advertised in advance that they would send the schooner over the Horseshoe Falls on September 8th 1827.

Most of the animals placed aboard were able to safely escape before the ship broke apart on the shoals  and was swept over the Horseshoe Falls.

This daredevil event took place as advertised before an estimated crowd of 10,000 people.

This heralded the beginning of 170 years of recorded history of men and women challenging the Niagara River and the Falls in face of death for fame and fortune. Like a giant roulette wheel, they came willingly and gambled with their very lives.

 

SOME SURVIVED......and......SOME DIED

 

The river is ferocious and unforgiving

 

 

 

Blondin

Blondin balancing between life and death

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

 

 

for a quick reference visit

 

 

and then learn all about those Daredevils listed in the index below

 

Sam Dixon tightrope walking beside the Cantilever Bridge

Samuel Dixon crossing the Niagara River Gorge on a rope in 1890

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

 

 

Daredevil pioneer Annie Taylor

Annie Taylor, the first to conquer the Horseshoe Falls
proudly displaying her barrel

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

 

 

CHRONOLOGICAL INDEX

 

Schooner Michigan

Sam Patch

E. Jackson

Blondin the Great

Seth Ford

The Great Farini

William Leonard Hunt

Captain Joel Robinson

Harry Leslie

Andrew Jenkins

Henry Bellini

Captain J.D. Rhodes

Stephen Peer

Maria Spelterini

David McDowell

Frank Brown

Clifford Calverly

D.H. MacDonald

Charles Cromwell

Walter Campbell

Samuel Dixon

James E. Hardy

Oliver Hilton

Captain Matthew Webb

Carlisle Graham

George Potts

William Hazlett

James Scott

William Kendall

Lawrence Donovan

Alphonse King

Charles Percy

Robert Flack

I.H. Ashley

Peter "Bowser" Nissen

Captain Billy Johnson

Joe Chambers

Martha Wagenfurher

Maud Willard

Annie Edson Taylor

Claus Larsen

Lincoln Beachy

Bobby Leach

Oscar Williams

Peter Langaard

Vincent Taylor

Jean Lussier

Charles Stephens

George L. Strathakis

William "Red" Hill Sr.

William "Red" Hill Jr.

Major Lloyd Hill

Ted Mercier

Joseph Hawryluk

Scott Graham

Claus Kirkoff

Roger Woodward

Nathan T. Boya

William A. Fitzgerald

Raymond Weaver

Karl Koch

Bruce Curtis

Ronald Hess

John Kazian

Niagara White Water

Henri Julien Rechatin

Edward Friedland

Jim Sarten

Niagara Gorge River Trips

Mr. X (James Randi)

Kenneth Lagergren

Chris Spelius

Don Wheedon

Carrie Ashton

Karel Soucek

Steven Trotter

Phillipe Petit

John David Munday

Peter DeBernardi

Jeffrey Petkovich

Jessie W. Sharp

Robert Overacker

Kirk Jones

Mr. Y

Mr. Z

 

 

 

 

 

SCHOONER "MICHIGAN"

1827

(animals aboard)

 

In 1827, William Forsyth of the Pavilion Hotel with the help of John Brown of the Ontario House and General Parkhurst Whitney of the Eagle Hotel in Niagara Falls, New York  staged the very first tourist stunt at Niagara Falls.

Forsyth bought an old condemned lake schooner named "Michigan"

The "Michigan" was 16 feet from keel to the deck. The water depth at the crest of the Horseshoe Falls was nearly twenty feet deep back then (presently 3 - 5 feet).

The hotel owners then advertised in advance that they would send the schooner over the Horseshoe Falls on September 8th 1827. Printed broadsheets were delivered throughout Western New York and Upper Canada announcing:

"The pirate Michigan with a cargo of ferocious wild animals will pass the great rapids and falls of Niagara - 8th September 1827 at 6 o'clock

The Michigan has long braved the bellows of Erie, with success, as a merchant vessel: but having been condemned by her owners unfit to sail long proudly "above"; her present proprietors, together with several public spirited friends, have appointed her to carry a cargo of Living Animals of the Forest, which surround the upper lakes, through the white tossing and deep rolling rapids of Niagara and down its great precipice, into the basin "below". The greatest exertions are being made to procure animals of the most ferocious kind, such as Panthers, Wild Cats and Wolves; but in lieu of these , which it may be impossible to obtain , a few vicious or worthless dogs, such as may possess strength  and activity, and perhaps a few of the toughest of the lesser animals will be added to, and compose the cargo...

Should the vessel take her course through the deepest of the rapids, it is confidently believed that she will reach the Horse Shoe unbroken; if so she will perform her voyage to the water of the Gulf beneath which is of great depth and buoyancy, entire, but what her fate will be the trial will decide. Should the animals be young and hardy and possessed of great muscular power and joining their fate with that of the vessel, remain on board until she reaches the water below, there is a great possibility that many of them will have performed the terrible jaunt, unhurt!"  

To further add to the stunt the schooner was decorated to look like a pirate ship with human shaped dummies tied to her deck.

The only animals placed on board the doomed ship included a buffalo, two small bears, two raccoons, a dog and one goose. Some reports also included two fox, fifteen geese and an eagle. This was a far cry from the ferocious animals that Forsyth had advertised would be aboard the doomed vessel.

On September 8th 1827, with a crowd estimated at 10,000, the ship was towed by Captain James Rough from Black Rock to Navy Island using the paddle steamer "Chippawa". Here the "Michigan" was pointed towards the Falls in mid-river. Prior to the release of the "Michigan", visitors were allowed to board the schooner and view the condemned animals. 

At approximately 6 p.m., the schooner "Michigan" was released into the currents of the upper Niagara River and drifted towards the Falls. As it reached the rapids, its hull was torn open and the schooner began filling with water. The two bears running loose on deck jumped free of the schooner into the rapids. They were able to swim to Goat Island. The other animals were caged or tied to the ship died when the schooner went over the Horseshoe Falls. At the base of the Falls, only the goose had survived the plunge and was caught by Mr. Duggan.  

 

 

 

 

 

SAM PATCH

1829

(Survived)

 

On Wednesday October 7th 1829, Sam Patch became the first daredevil to challenge the Niagara River. The 22 year old from Rhode island dove into the churning waters of the Niagara River from a height of 85 feet. Mr. Patch chose Goat Island between the Luna Falls and the Bridal Falls to erect his diving platform. He survived this headfirst high dive unscathed. On October 17th 1829, Sam Patch made the second successful high dive at the falls from a height of 130 feet. 

Following his feats at Niagara Falls, Sam Patch went to Rochester where he attempted a 100 foot dive into the Genesee River. During this dive, Patch died by drowning.

 

 

 

 

 

E. JACKSON

1856

(Survived)

 

On August 27th 1856, E. Jackson swam in the Niagara River from the Briddle Stairway (Goat Island) to the Horseshoe Falls.

 

 

 

 

 

THE GREAT BLONDIN

AKA: Jean Francois Gravelot

1859

(Survived)

 

 

Blondin on sitting down on the job

Blondin crossing the Niagara River Gorge on a rope in 1859

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

The most famous of Niagara's daredevils was Jean Francois Gravelot, better know as "The Great Blondin". He was born February 28th 1824 in St. Omer, Pas de Calais in Northern France.

Blondin first came to Niagara in early 1858. He became obsessed with crossing the Niagara River on a tightrope. On June 30th 1859, Blondin successfully walked across the river on a tight rope. For this crossing , Blondin utilized a 1,100 foot long - 3 inch diameter manila rope stretched from what is now Prospect Park in Niagara Falls, New York to what is now Oakes Garden in Niagara Falls, Ontario. He began his first walk from the American side and completed his crossing in 20 minutes. Blondin used a thirty (30) foot (9m) long balancing pole that weighed 40 pounds.

During the summer of 1859, Blondin completed eight more crossing times. His most difficult crossing occurred on August 14th when he carried his manager Harry Colcord on his back. During the summer of 1860, Blondin returned to Niagara for a second successful year of tight rope walking across the Niagara River for hundreds of thousands of sightseers. One of his acts included pushing a wheelbarrow along as he crossed.

On September 8th 1860, Blondin completed his final tight rope crossing of the Niagara River. In 1860, Signor Guillermo Antonio Farini (aka: William Hunt) of Lockport, New York was Blondin's formidable rival. Others followed in the absence of Blondin but none was more daring or famous.

Blondin died in 1897 at the age of 73 years.

 

Blondin carrying Harry Colcord on his back

Blondin tightrope walking across the Niagara River Gorge carrying his manager Harry Colcord on his back on August 19th 1859

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

 

 

 

 

SETH FORD

1859

(Survived)

 

On July 22nd 1859, Seth Ford swam across the Niagara River from a location north of the American Falls to the Canadian shoreline.

 

 

 

 

 

SIGNOR GUILLERMO ANTONIO FARINI

"THE GREAT FARINI"

aka: WILLIAM LEONARD HUNT

1860

(Survived)

 

Farini

The Great Farini crossing the Niagara River Gorge on a rope carrying a washing machine on his back on September 5th 1860

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

William Leonard Hunt was born Lockport, New York in 1838. Hunt was raised and educated in Port Hope, Ontario. He had dual citizenship.

During the early summer of 1860, a young 22 year old Hunt watched intently from the shore of the Niagara Gorge as Blondin made his way across the Niagara Gorge by walking across a rope strung from side to side. Hunt turned to his girlfriend and proclaimed that he could do what Blondin could. That night, Hunt and his girlfriend returned to Lockport, New York. Hunt was working for the father of his girlfriend as a store keeper, gave notice to his employer that he was quitting to pursue his career dream as a rope walker in order to challenge Blondin. His girlfriend immediately broke off their engagement.

During the summer of 1859, Hunt was offered $100 to perform at a local fair in Port Hope. Hunt demanded $500 on the condition that he would stand on his head above the Ganaraska River. Hunt carried out this performance with a borrowed rope. He walked back and forth across the river without a balancing pole. In addition, he stood on his head, did somersaults and walked blind folded as he had promised. Hunt was an extremely strong young man and had won a tug of war over six other men single handed.

William Hunt changed his name to Signor Guillermo Antonio Farini. He would quickly become known as "The Great Farini". Farini left his home in Port Hope after his father accused him of being a disgrace to his family by becoming a circus performer.

Farini moved to Minnesota and for a short time worked at his uncle's general store. Farini then joined the Dan Rice's floating circus on the Mississippi River. Farini was reunited with his family after buying his father a farm.

Farini issued a series of challenges to Blondin but they remained unanswered. Blondin was a more polished acrobat however Farini was a much more powerful performer and a much better businessman. Blondin usually took a collection at the end of each performance while Farini marketed and packaged his performances to ensure a larger audience and financial success.

Farini's first performance at Niagara Falls occurred on August 15th 1860. Farini began the tightrope walk while carrying a balancing pole and an additional coil of rope strapped to his back. When Farini reached the mid-point he tied the pole to the tightrope and using the coil of rope he carried with him, Farini lowered himself to the deck of the Maid of the Mist boat 200 feet below. Getting down was relatively easy. On the deck of the boat, Farini drank a glass of wine before ascending back to the tightrope above. This task was much more demanding than Farini anticipated. Farini was near total exhaustion and nearly fell on several occasions. Farini did make it back to the tightrope, and continued to the shoreline. After a brief ten minute rest, Farini made the return crossing blindfolding and wearing baskets on his feet. This was the first and only time that Farini tried lowering himself from the tightrope to the river below. Blondin did not try to equal this feat.

In the weeks that followed, Farini matched or surpassed each of Blondin's performances. Farini balanced himself on his head, hung from the tightrope by his toes and carried a person across the Niagara Gorge on his back. On September 5th 1860, Farini carried an Irish washer woman across the gorge on his back to counter an earlier performance by Blondin. When Blondin took out a stove on the tightrope and cooked an omelette, Farini carried a washtub out on the tightrope. He then lowered a bucket to the river below to retrieve water in order to wash a dozen handkerchiefs. Farini had a driving desire to be the best.

Farini performed at Niagara Falls twice each week. Although his acts were more daring and drew larger crowds, he never achieved the fame that Blondin did. Blondin received most of the attention and most of the press.

For Farini, tightrope walking was but one of his many interests throughout his life. During his life he was an inventor, an explorer, writer, secret service agent, painter and sculptor. In 1862, while performing a tightrope walk above a bull ring in Havana, Cuba, a female he was carrying on his back fell to the ground below. The female dies several days later.

 

Farini dangling from the tightrope

The Great Farini hanging from the tightrope over the Niagara River Gorge

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

On August 8th 1864, Farini returned to Niagara Falls and attempted to perform another death defying feat. Farini wearing a pair of specially made stilts waded out into the cascading water just above the American Falls. Farini planned to walk to the brink of the Falls but one of the stilts he was wearing was caught in a crevice in the riverbed causing it to break. Farini suffered a badly injured leg but was still able to reach Robinson Island which is nearest the Luna Falls. Here he was rescued. Farini left Niagara Falls defeated and deflated.

In 1866, Farini took his tightrope and circus act to England, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. During the years that followed, Farini did many other things with his life. He was an explorer and during the American Civil War, Farini was a member of the Secret Service for the Confederate Army, The Great Farini returned to Canada in 1899. He took up the art of oil painting. He remained active in his later years as well.

William Leonard Hunt, aka: The Great Farini died in January of 1929 at the age of 91 years. Farini is buried in Port Hope, Ontario. The Great Farini was one of the worlds greatest tightrope walkers to ever conquer Niagara.

 

 

 

 

 

CAPTAIN JOEL ROBINSON

1861

(Survived)

 

 

Maid of the Mist navigating Whirlpool Rapids in 1861
a stereograph of the Maid of the Mist II being navigated through the Whirlpool Rapids
by Captain Joel Robinson on June 6th 1861

 

 

In 1846, the Niagara Falls Ferry Association was incorporated. The Maid of the Mist Ferry Service had begun.

The first Maid of the Mist was launched on May 27th 1846. It remained the only method to cross the border until 1848, when the first suspension bridge was built. With a ferry service no longer required the Maid of the Mist boat service realized the need for a tourist boat attraction.

Due to its popularity, a larger boat, the Maid of the Mist II was launched for service on July 14th 1854. It was a single smoke stacked 72 foot long steam propelled paddle wheeler. In 1861, due to a financial crisis and the impending American Civil War, the Maid of the Mist was sold at public auction. It was sold to a Canadian Company providing the boat could be delivered to Lake Ontario. In order to do so the Maid of the Mist would have to be navigated through the Great Gorge Rapids, the Whirlpool and the Lower Rapids prior to delivery. The thought was mind boggling and terrifying.

On June 6th 1861, 53 year old Captain Joel Robinson undertook this mission along with two deck hands. At approximately 3 p.m., with his mechanic, James McIntyre at his side in the wheel house, Captain Robinson began this perilous journey. His engineer, James Jones was tending to the boiler to ensure maximum power was available when needed. A short blast of the boats whistle announced the beginning. With both shores lined with people who had come to see this spectacle, Captain Robinson and crew rode the Maid of the Mist through one of the world's most wild and dangerous white water rapids.

The first giant wave, threw Robinson and McIntyre to the floor of the wheel house and tore the smoke stack from the boat. Engineer Jones was thrown to the floor of the engine room. On his knees, he held on to a pipe stand for his life. The boat was now at the mercy of the mountainous waves crashing against and over the tiny boat. The boat was carried at approximately 39 miles per hour through the rock strewn rapids. Soon the Maid of the Mist was propelled into the Whirlpool. The relative tranquility of the Whirlpool allowed Captain Robinson to regain control of his boat.

Captain Robinson had great difficulty breaking the Maid of the Mist from the grip of the Whirlpool before challenging the final leg of this dangerous trip through the dreaded Devil's Hole Rapids. As the boat escaped the grips of the Whirlpool, Captain Robinson did the best he could to hold a course through the center of the channel with his badly damaged vessel.

The three mile journey through the rapids and the whirlpool was successful except for losing the smoke stack. Captain Robinson had accomplished something no one had done before and thought impossible. Captain Robinson and his crew were motivated by the five hundred dollar reward if they successfully delivered the boat to the docks at Queenston, Ontario.

The frightening experience of this journey caused Captain Robinson to give up a career that he loved. He retired into near seclusion. Captain Robinson died two years later at the age of 55 years.

 

 

 

 

 

HARRY LESLIE

1865

(Survived)

 

On June 15th 1865, Harry Leslie, "the American Blondin", walked a tightrope across the Niagara Gorge over the Whirlpool Rapids.

 

 

 

 

 

ANDREW "PROFESSOR" JENKINS

aka: The CANADIAN BLONDIN

 

1869

(Survived)

 

Professor Jenkins on his velocipede

Professor Jenkins crossing the Niagara River Gorge on his velocipede

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

Andrew Jenkins was born in Gloucester England on May 3, 1844 to his parents Mr. & Mrs. Benjamin Jenkins. He had two brothers William and Adam and two sisters. His brothers and sister Mary Anne was born in England. His second sister Elizabeth was born in the United States following the families move to North America in 1850.The family settled in the United States where Benjamin Jenkins was a rail road contractor.

Following his career, Benjamin and his family moved to Canada and settled in Turnbull Corners which is now Branchton located near Galt Ontario.

At the age of 15 Andrew Jenkins was taken to Niagara Falls by his father to see the famous Blondin perform his stunt of walking across the Niagara Gorge on a tight rope. Since then Andrew wanted to be a daredevil like Blondin.

Jenkins began practising by stringing a rope between two trees in his backyard and practiced rope walking on the rope. Everything that the Great Blondin did, Andrew practiced. Andrew’s first appearance was performed at a high school picnic on a rope 50 feet above the ground. He performed high rope walks locally.

At an early age Andrew saw a bicycle act on a Galt stage. This is where the idea of riding a bicycle across the Niagara River gorge on a rope came from.

Andrew Jenkins, also called "the Professor" performed his stunt Niagara Falls on August 26th 1869.
The “Canadian Blondin" crossed the Niagara River gorge on a 4 inch diameter rope measuring 1040 feet long on a bicycle named the "doon bike". He was 25 years of age at the time. George Sleeman, a Guelph Brewer accompanied Andrew to Niagara to help erect the rope.

He never returned to Niagara Falls to attempt any other stunts.

For 14 years after Andrew Jenkins performed his stunt Niagara Falls he repeated his performances at different locations across Canada and United States. He spent a great deal of time performing daily at Rocky River Resort near Cleveland Ohio on 1000 feet of rope.

After retiring he opened a photography shop in Dunnville, Ontario and Galt, Ontario.

Andrew Jenkins was nearly blinded when a bottle of ammonia exploded while he was working in Dunnville. He retained partial vision in only one eye.

Andrew Jenkins died on July 14, 1924 at the age of 80 years.

- The information above was provided by Sara and Don Jenkins


The Velocipede Ride across Niagara

How Professor Jenkins crossed Niagara River on a "velocipede"-what the machine was-how was the event was regarded

August 27, 1869

from the Buffalo Express

On August 26th 1869, a new candidate has made his appearance before the public for glory, renown and shekels. He is called "Professor Jenkins", or "the Canadian Blondin", and his forte is riding the bicycle on a rope. His first call for public attention in this section of the country was made in a little handbill announcing that his "performance on the tight rope had astonished the world, and left competitors far behind", and furthermore that he would ride a velocipede across Niagara Falls yesterday afternoon.

Early in the day the crowd around the falls was far from small, and by noon the excursion trains on the Great Western and Lake Huron Railroads had brought thousands of people, all anxious to see the man ride over the falls in the velocipede. But the show was not at the falls at all, but below suspension bridge, on the exact spot where the genuine Blondin years ago cross the river with the man on his back. The rope, 2 inches in diameter and 1000 feet long, was placed in position last Friday, and made as secure and tight as possible.

The Velocipede and the Rope

The machine used by Professor Jenkins is not in any sense a velocipede. It is, however, a bicycle, and turned upside down would resemble in some degree a modern velocipede. The wheels, 3 inches wide are made heavy wood without tires, but in their places are grooves one and three-quarter inches deep. The front wheel is 3'2" and the hind wheel two feet - 10 inches in diameter. The connecting rods are iron, so also the balance-pole, which is 8 feet long and tipped with 10 pound balls, and weighs 28 pounds. The whole thing, with the man thrown in, weighs 298 pounds.

The propelling power is a pinion cog-wheel made of brass, about 9 inches in diameter, which is made to gear to cogs which surround the front wheel at the bottom of the groove.

It was supposed, naturally enough, that a man writing across the Niagara River on a single rope would draw a large crowd of people to the falls; but it costs money to buy ropes and build fences; and those interested solicited subscriptions to defray expenses. The amount raised on both sides of the river was $130 of which the Elgin House gave $50. It was also agreed that half of the receipts at the bridge should go to the performer. The expenses were about $1000, the rope alone costing $350.

The 1000 feet of good 2 inch hemp rope stretched across the chasm, 200 feet above the boiling flood, was the first object to be gazed upon by the crowd, but you could not reach it without paying $.25 which a great many did, and were rewarded by a close inspection. The cable was fastened securely and immovably on the American shore, but on the Canadian shore coiled around a windlass to facilitate tightening, and then twisted and tied around a couple of cedar stumps. The deflection of the rope was about 30 feet. Photographers were early on the ground and secured the best locations for their cameras.

How It Was Done

At 2:30 o'clock the Professor made his appearance at a small house on the Canada side with the pieces of his machine, and at once proceeded to put them together, a task of no small labour. With the aid of his men, he first placed the fore wheel on the rope just at the edge of the precipice, and while one man balanced it, another placed on the standard from the underside, thus bringing two strong bars of iron on either side of the rope. All the joints were securely fastened with bolts. The braces or connecting rods extending from the standard to the rear shaft in the form of the letter "O" made the connection complete and very strong. The Professor then got outside of the rope, arranged the pinion wheel and fastened the balance pole across the "O" part of the braces. This done, the seat, a strip of leather, was secured to the rear axle by means of straps. This arrangement, which it was seen at once would throw the entire weight of the machine and the rider under the rope was a source of disappointment, if not of relief, too many of the spectators, who, not consulting the innovative genius of the Canadian Blondin, rather expected to see him mounted on a Greenwood velocipede which of course would give a good chance for ground and lofty tumbling.

Murmurs

All being in readiness, the bicycle was fastened by a rope to the bank, and Jenkins who had superintended all the operations started for his hotel to robe.

During his absence the crowd viewed the machine critically, and murmurs of "humbug" "sold" "who couldn't" were heard, but as a general thing the crowd were pleased with the ingenious method in which the great danger supposed to be involved in the undertaking had been avoided. By this time the people who had been pouring in on excursion trains from all parts of Canada had assembled in convenient locations for observation, to the number of perhaps 8,000.

The lion made his second appearance at 3:30 o'clock, dressed for the performance. He wore white tights, black velvet knee breeches, shoulder straps and cross belts of the same material, and on his head was placed a crown shaped hat and all were profusely bedecked with tinsel and beads. His feet were covered with buff moccasins. Before alighting from the carriage, Jenkins stopped and talked with our reporter; but there was a little nervousness apparent about his eyes and mouth which perhaps was caused by over smoking, or the enormous quid of tobacco he was seen to bite from a borrowed plug.

False Start

We gave him a word of encouragement, and he at once took his position astride the rope and proceeded to arrange the leather strap or seat, which as it was allowed to touch the rope seemed more for the purpose of protecting the velvet pants from damage by attrition then to sit upon. In fact he did not set but stood up with his feet about 18 inches apart, resting on the balance pole. In a moment he grasped the handles of the pinion wheel and turned them, moving slowly from the bank, the crowd preserving a death like stillness. After passing out a few yards a halt was made, and the photographers were allowed to take his picture. He then returned and waited five or 10 minutes and resumed his seat. Three pistol shots were then fired from the Canadian side and it was a "Go".

The machine move slowly forward, the rope swaying gently from side to side until he had passed about 50 feet, when another opportunity was given the artist, after which he crawled along at a snail's pace to the middle of the abyss, where he raised and waved his hat and received a faint cheer in response. From the center to the American shore it was evidently hard work to propel the bicycle, but at last the edge of the cliff was reached, and then the welcome did ring with the applause of the people. The time occupied in passing over the rope was just 11 minutes.
 

 

Jenkins' Velocipede

Professor Jenkins' velocipede

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

 

 

 

 

HENRY BELLINI

1873

(Survived)

 

 

Bellini laying down on the job

Henry Bellini tight laying down while rope walking across the Niagara River in 1873

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

Henry Bellini was born in England.

In 1873, Bellini came to Niagara Falls at the age of 32 years. On August 25th 1873, Bellini made his first tight rope walk across the Niagara River using a 1,500 foot long - 2.5 inch diameter rope weighing 2,500 pounds. He combined a tight rope walk with a leap into the churning river below. He tried crossing using a 48 pound - 22 foot long balance pole. Following his leap into the water, Bellini was picked up by an awaiting boat. Bellini made three such leaps during 1873. In the winter of 1886, Bellini jumped from the Upper Suspension Bridge. He was hauled from the water unconscious with broken ribs but alive.

Bellini died in 1888 while jumping from a bridge in London, England.

 

Bellini rope walking across the Niagara River Gorge

Henry Bellini tight rope walking across the Niagara River in 1873

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

 

 

 

 

CAPTAIN J. D. RHODES

1878

(Survived)

 

On June 26th 1878, Captain J. D. Rhodes jumped into the Niagara River from a ninety foot high platform erected below Prospect Point on the American shore.

 

 

 

 

 

STEPHEN PEER

1887

(Died)

 

Stephen Peer

Stephen Peer in 1887

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

Stephen Peer was born in 1840 in the Stamford Township and was 19 years old when Blondin performed his first tight rope walk in Niagara Falls. Peer wanted to become Niagara's first tight rope walker.

In 1873, Stephen Peer signed on to become an assistant to Henry Bellini by helping Bellini string the rope across the gorge. Peer's first public appearance opened with Bellini's equipment but without Bellini's consent. Bellini tried to stop Peer by trying to cut the tight rope without success. Bellini was chased out of town.

By 1887, Peer had become famous enough to begin performing under his own billing. On June 22nd 1887, Peer performed a tight rope walk on a five-eighth inch diameter wire cable stretched between the present Whirlpool Bridge and the Penn Central Bridge. Peer started his crossing on the Canadian side, successfully completing a double crossing.

On June 25th 1887, Stephen Peer was found dead laying on the bank of the Niagara river directly below his wire cable. It is speculated that Peer tried an unscheduled night crossing after an evening of drinking.

 

 

 

 

 

MARIA SPELTERINI

1876

(Survived)

 

Maria Spelterini

Maria Spelterini crossing the Niagara River Gorge on a rope in 1876.
The only woman tightrope walker to ever challenge the gorge

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

Signorina Maria Spelterini became the first woman to ever cross the Niagara River gorge on a tight rope.

Spelterini was a 23 year old buxom 150 pound beautiful woman of Italian descent. She made her debut on July 8th 1876 performing a successful crossing using two and a quarter inch wire located just North of the lower suspension bridge ( presently the Whirlpool Bridge). Maria Spelterini soon proved herself equal to those tight rope walkers that preceded her.

On July 12th 1876, Spelterini crossed wearing peach baskets strapped to her feet. On July 19th 1876, she crossed blind folded. On July 22nd 1876, Spelterini crossed with her ankles and wrists manacled.

On July 26th 1876, Maria Spelterini made a farewell crossing. She never performed any more in Niagara Falls. Her personal life remains a mystery. The date and place of her death are unknown.

July 1, 1876

A Lady to Cross the River on a Single Rope

The great sensation of the present day in the amusement world is the projected trip across Niagara River of a young lady, lately arrived from Europe, and known as the Signorina Maria Spelterini. This young artiste arrived in New York about two months ago, and has since been quietly making preparations to accomplish the feat that gave Blondin a world wide reputation.

During her stay in the city the Spelterini gave two representations at Jones' Wood, and perform feats on the high rope 100 feet above the ground that at once convinced the spectators of her perfect right to cucomiums, she has received from the European press.

Some well-known managers who were present at her initial performance freely express the opinion that she excelled in grace and daring any artiste that has ever visited this country. A Herald reporter paid Miss Spelterini a visit yesterday afternoon, and in the course of a conversation learned the following facts:

She was born Livorno, Italy and made her first appearance in public with her father's company when she was three years of age. She performed until she reached the age of 10 upon the tight rope and then commenced the slack-wire and the rolling globe. In the two last acts, she achieved a brilliant success, performing for two years in Berlin and Vienna.

In 1871, she went to Russia had made such a great success upon the high rope that she adopted that branch of her profession entirely and gave it her sole attention. She is gifted with wonderful nerve, combined with cool daring, and during her entire career, she never made a single mistake, although on several occasions, she was only saved from accident by great presence of mind.

In 1873, when performing in Surrey Gardens, London, on the day the Alexandria Palace was destroyed by fire, she was standing on a platform waiting to commence her act when the rope broke. The shock threw down the pole on the other end. The one supporting the platform on which she stood rocked violently as her assistant was jumping about and about to throw himself off, but she caught him by the hair of his head and made him stand still until assistance was brought, and they both landed on terra firma safe and sound.

On one occasion, when performing at night in Jersey at the height of 125 feet over the Bay, a violent thunderstorm arose, frightening everybody in the vicinity, but she went through her performance with the lightning flashing all around her and never for a moment lost her presence of mind. Last year, at Oporto Portugal, she was advertised to carry a boy across on her back, a distance of 200 feet, about 80 feet from the ground. The boy disappointed her, and she carried her brother across, a gentleman weighing 170 pounds.

Speaking of Niagara, the Spelterini does not regard the feet as anything at all extraordinary, as walking across the river does not display the artistes nerve half as much as the different performances that she proposes to give on the rope. If sufficient strain can be got on the rope so as to stretch it tolerably straight. She will be able to give her entire repertoire and, in any case, if the rope can be properly guyed she will perform some 10 or 12 different acts.

The rope is now being manufactured in the city, and when completed, will measure 1000 feet and weigh 1,700 pounds. It will require 1,000 pounds of guys to keep it fairly steady. The rope will be stretched across the Niagara Rapids about 200 feet below the Rail Road Suspension Bridge and 800 feet on each bank of the river will be enclosed and arranged with scats for the accommodation of spectators. The Erie, New York Central, Great Western, Canada Southern, and other roads will run trains at excursion rates to accommodate the visitors anxious to pay a visit to the falls and see a woman crossed the Rapids on a rope, a feat never before attempted.

The first performance will be given on July 1, Dominion day at 4 PM and the second at the same hour on July 4, in honour to the Centennial celebration.

Signorina Spelterini and her brother left last night for the International Hotel, where she will remain during her stay at Niagara Falls.


 

 

Spelterini walking with buckets on her feet

Maria Spelterini wearing wooden buckets on her feet
crossing the Niagara River Gorge on a rope in 1876

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

 

 

 

 

DAVID MCDOWELL

1881

(Survived)

 

On August 10th 1881, David McDowell of   Batavia, New York walked across the Niagara Gorge on the narrow railing of the Upper Suspension Bridge. He was intoxicated at the time.

 

 

 

 

 

FRANK M. BROWN

1882

(Survived)

 

On August 25th 1882, Frank M. Brown of New York City, New York swam across the Niagara River from the foot of the American Falls to the Canadian shoreline in 4 minutes and 46 seconds.

 

 

 

 

 

CLIFFORD CALVERLY

1887, 1890

(Survived)

 

Clifford Calverly

Clifford Calverly pushing a wheelbarrow across the Niagara River Gorge
on a rope in 1892

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

Records are very few pertaining to Clifford Calverly.

Calverly was born in 1870 in Thornbury, Ontario. He lived in Clarksburg, Ontario where he worked as a steeplejack. In 1887, Clifford Calverly came to Niagara Falls to perform his tight rope act.

 During his successful crossing he set a speed record by crossing the gorge in two minutes and thirty-two seconds as compared to the usual fifteen to twenty minutes required by most of his predecessors. During subsequent crossings, Calverly skipped rope, hung by one arm, hung by one foot, sat on a chair and used a wheelbarrow.

 

Clifford Calverly

Clifford Calverly crossing the Niagara River in 1887

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

 

 

 

 

D.H. MACDONALD

1887, 1890

(Survived)

 

D. H. MacDonald made at least one successful crossing using the equipment of Clifford Calverly.

 

 

 

 

 

CHARLES CROMWELL

1887, 1890

(Survived)

 

Charles Cromwell was born in Blenheim, Ontario. He was the son of Frank and Maud Cromwell. Frank was an aerial trapeze artist. Frank and Maud worked for the Ringling Brothers Circus. Charles grew up and lived in Paris, Ontario but traveled frequently with his parents and the circus. Once Charles had grown up he began working with the Yankee Robinson Circus as a rope walker.

A successful tight rope walk across the Niagara River gorge was completed by Charles Cromwell. Cromwell failed to attract much media or public attention. Charles completed two crossings of the Niagara River Gorge. He utilized a 16 foot (4.8m) long balancing pole that weighed 42 pounds. He died in Galt, Ontario on December 19th 1938 at the age of 83 years.

 

 

 

 

 

WALTER G. CAMPBELL

1889

(Survived)

 

Walter Campbell

1889
Walter Campbell and dog "Jumbo"
navigated a clinker boat through the Whirlpool Rapids

 

Walter Campbell was born on October 30th 1868 in Youngstown, New York. He was one of eleven children born to his parents James and Rachel (Ribble) Campbell.

On September 15th 1888 at approximately 3:20 p.m., nineteen year old Walter Campbell set out along the Niagara River with several friends and his pet dog "Jumbo" in a small clinker built boat.

Campbell rowed to the old Maid of the Mist landing (just south of the Michigan Central Railway Cantilever Bridge) where he dropped his friends off.

Campbell wearing bathing trunks and a cork life preserver, set out form shore with his pet dog onboard. Campbell was standing while using an oar as a rudder to guide his boat to the middle of the river.

Campbell was swept downstream by the current into the Whirlpool Rapids. As he entered the ferocious white water, his dog "Jumbo" was thrown into the water ahead of the boat. Campbell lost the oar he was holding. He crouched down into the boat and was seen holding the sides of the boat as it pitched wildly in the water.

As the boat was propelled through the rapids, it quickly filled with water. The boat broke into pieces, throwing Campbell into the water.

Campbell had to swim against the current to avoid being struck by the wreckage of the boat, before being swiftly carried into the Whirlpool. At the Whirlpool, Campbell was able to swim to the Canadian shoreline where he was rescued twenty minutes after his journey began.

Campbell's pet dog died from drowning during the perilous journey.

Following his feat of survival, Campbell earned a thousand dollars for a four week appearance at the old Wonderland in Buffalo, New York.

On January 16th 1909, died at the age of 39 years, two weeks after he had been committed to the county almshouse as a result of a chronic illness.

 

 

 

 

 

SAMUEL J. DIXON

1890

(Survived)

 

Sam Dixon

Samuel Dixon crossing the Niagara River Gorge on a rope in 1891

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

Samuel J. Dixon was a photographer from Toronto, Ontario. On September 6th 1890, Dixon crossed the Niagara River gorge using a seven - eighths inch diameter rope stretched across the gorge over the wildest part of the Whirlpool Rapids. His balancing pole was made up of three pieces of gas pipe - sixteen feet in length. Dixon crossed from the Canadian side to the American side before returning. On the return he added more suspense by lying on the rope with the pole resting on his chest, standing on one foot and by hanging from the rope with one hand. Dixon was truly the last of the memorable tight rope walkers ever to come to Niagara Falls.

 

 

 

 

 

JAMES E. HARDY

1896

(Survived)

 

James E. Hardy came from Toronto, Ontario to Niagara Falls in the summer of 1896. At the age of 21 years, Hardy was the youngest person ever to tight rope walk across the Niagara River gorge. During the summer of 1896, Hardy made sixteen crossings. James Hardy died in May 1939 at age 65 in the City of Toronto.

 

 

 

 

 

OLIVER HILTON

1897

(Survived)

 

Oliver Hilton came to Niagara Falls from Hamburg, New York. He was a professional circus rope walker. Hilton claims to have crossed the Niagara River gorge on September 16th 1897 ( at the age of 10 years) in stocking feet on the rope that James E. Hardy had left behind. No proof existed to support this claim.

 

 

 

 

 

CAPTAIN MATTHEW WEBB

1883

(Died)

 

Captain Matthew Webb was born in Shropshire, England in 1848. He was one of seven children born to his parents, Matthew Webb and Sarah Cartwright. At the age of 12 years, Matthew Webb enrolled as a sea cadet on the naval training ship, the HMS Conway in Liverpool, England. He became an experienced sailor. During his years at sea, he became a very good swimmer. He became famous for his swimming feats, many performed while saving human lives.

In 1873 Webb became the recipient of a gold medal from the Royal Humane Society of Great Britain for lifesaving for jumping off a Cunard steamer "Russia" to save a sailor who had been washed over board.

On August 24th 1875, Webb swam the English Channel. Webb came to Niagara Falls during the Summer of 1883 to challenge the Niagara River. He had been promised a $2,000 reward if he swam the Niagara River Whirlpool Rapids.

At 4 p.m. on the afternoon of July 24th 1883, Captain Webb was rowed out from the Maid of the Mist landing to the middle of the Niagara River by Jack McCloy. At 4:25 p.m., Captain Webb dove into the river and began swimming towards the great whirlpool rapids. Eye witnesses claim that Captain Webb made the trip through the rapids in two minutes only to be drawn underwater at the vortex of Whirlpool. There are however conflicting eye witness accounts as to whether Captain Webb drowned in the rapids or in the whirlpool. At any rate, Webb's mangled body was recovered from the Niagara River near Queenston four days later History would later prove that the swim Captain Webb had undertaken could be done successfully.

Captain Webb was buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls, New York.

On August 22nd 1886, a Boston Policeman made the trip through the rapids wearing a cork life preserver. On July 18th 1933, William Kondrat age 18 of Chatham, New Jersey began swimming across the Niagara River near the Maid of the Mist docks. Kondrat was swept down river by the current towards the Great Whirlpool Rapids. Kondrat survived the rapids and the Whirlpool by the narrowest margin. Before being rescued Kondrat had been in the water nearly two and a half hours.

 

 

 

 

 

CARLISLE GRAHAM

1886

(Survived)

 

Carlisle Graham

Carlisle Graham posing with his barrel

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

On July 11th 1886, Niagara Falls witnessed its first barrel stunt. Carlisle D. Graham, an English cooper (barrel maker) who had recently immigrated to Philadelphia Pennsylvania USA came to Niagara Falls. Graham had constructed a five and a half foot barrel of oaken staves and handmade iron hoops for his widely advertised trip.

On Sunday July 11th 1886 during the early afternoon, Graham began his trip from what is now the Whirlpool Bridge through the great gorge rapids and the whirlpool. Graham stood six feet tall had to stoop over once inside the barrel to allow the water tight lid to be screwed into place. He was completely encased in a waterproof canvas sheath with the exception of his two arms which allowed Graham to hold onto inside mounted metal handles. The initial trip took 30 minutes. Graham survived but had become extremely ill and dizzy from the ride.

This led Graham to announce that on August 19th 1886 he would make a second trip. In this trip he would keep his head outside of the barrel. On August 8th 1886, before Graham could undertake this stunt, two fellow shipmates George Hazlett and William Potts successfully conquered this same stretch of river using Grahams barrel. Both survived uninjured.

Carlisle Graham made his second trip as scheduled on August 19th 1886. Graham survived but leaving his head outside the barrel resulted in Graham sustaining hearing impaired. On August 18th 1886, the day before Graham's second trip, James Scott, of Lewiston, New York attempted to swim the rapids and lost his life.

In November 1886, George Hazlett and his girlfriend Sadie Allen of Buffalo, New York rode the barrel together through the rapids and the whirlpool without incident.

Graham made his third trip through the rapids on June 15th 1887 and his fourth trip on August 25th 1889 in a newly designed seven foot long barrel.

Now famous, Graham announced that he would ride his barrel over the falls but did not carry out his plan. On July 14th 1901, Graham made his fifth trip through the whirlpool rapids. During this trip he nearly suffocated to death after getting caught in a whirlpool eddy for twenty minutes.

On September 6th 1901, Graham loaned his barrel to Martha Wagenfuhrer of Buffalo, New York. Miss Wagenfuhrer became the first woman to successfully navigate the rapids and whirlpool alone. On September 7th 1901, Graham arranged a double performance with friend Maude Willard of Canton, Ohio. Willard would ride the barrel through the rapids to the Whirlpool and both she and Graham would swim the rest of the way to Lewiston. Willard rode Graham's barrel through the rapids then was caught in the whirlpool for several hours before she could be rescued. Willard was found dead of suffocation. She had taken her pet fox terrier along with her and the dogs nose had become stuck in the barrels only air hole.

On July 17th 1905, Graham swam a race in the lower rapids below the Whirlpool to Lewiston with William J. Glover Jr. of Baltimore Maryland. Glover won the race. Glover was 32 years old and Graham was 45 years old. Both wore life preservers and neck braces. Graham's date of death is unknown. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls, New York.

 

 

 

 

 

GEORGE POTTS
and
WILLIAM HAZLETT

1886

(Survived)

 

On August 8th 1886, George Potts and William Hazlett, together, navigated through the Whirlpool Rapids in a barrel owned by Carlisle Graham.

 

 

 

 

 

JAMES SCOTT

1886

(Died)

 

On August 22nd 1886, Carlisle Graham had offered $10 to anyone willing to retrieve his barrel from the Whirlpool following his daredevil stunt ride through the Whirlpool Rapids. James Scott agreed to Graham's offer. While awaiting Grahams return, Scott made a practice jump into the water from a location west of Thompson's Point at the Whirlpool. Scott failed to resurface and died of drowning.

 

 

 

 

 

WILLIAM KENDALL

1886

(Survived)

 

William Kendall - 1886

William Kendall - 1886

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

On August 22nd 1886, William Kendall went through the Whirlpool Rapids wearing only a life preserver as protection.

 

 

 

 

 

LAWRENCE DONOVAN

1886

(Survived)

 

On November 7th 1886, Lawrence Donovan jumped into the Niagara River from the Upper Suspension Bridge while wearing suit, canvas shoes and a bowler hat.

 

 

 

 

 

ALPHONSE "PROFESSOR" KING

1886, 1887

(Survived)

 

On December 15th 1886, Alphonse "Professor" King walked 30.5 meters (100 feet) on the Niagara River near the Canadian shoreline while wearing a pair of tin shoes. King called his shoes "Golden Fish". This stunt took place at the Upper Suspension Bridge.

On August 14th 1887, Alphonse King crossed the Niagara River below the Horseshoe Falls on a water bicycle. The modified bicycle consisted of a wheel with paddles erected between two water tight cylinders - 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter and 10 feet (3m) long.

 

 

 

 

 

CHARLES A. PERCY

1887, 1888

(Survived)

 

On August 28th 1887, Charles A. Percy successfully navigated the Whirlpool Rapids in a boat. Percy was unable to continue  his journey along the river to Lewiston New York because his boat became stranded in the Whirlpool.

On September 16th 1888, Percy again successfully navigated the Whirlpool Rapids in his boat. On this trip, Percy was able to cross the Whirlpool and continue his trip through the Great Gorge Rapids (Devils Hole Rapids) on route to Lewiston. As Percy was passing the Niagara Glen area, he was tossed out of his boat. Percy was wearing a life preserver and was able to floated down river the remaining distance to Lewiston, New York. 

 

 

 

 

 

ROBERT FLACK

1888

(Died)

 

On July 4th 1888, Robert Flack was drowned while attempting to navigate the Whirlpool Rapids in a boat. Flack was using a self described "secret" buoyant filling which turned out to be excelsior (wood shavings). Flack had secured himself into his boat by a number of harnesses. Unfortunately Flack's boat over turned and Flack was unable to free himself before drowning.

 

 

 

 

 

I.H. ASHLEY

1890

(Survived)

 

On May 3rd 1890, I.H. Ashley of Chicago, lowered himself from the Upper Suspension Bridge into a small boat waiting in the Niagara River below. Ashley used aluminium tape controlled by a clutch to lower himself to the awaiting boat.

 

 

 

 

 

PETER "BOWSER" NISSEN

1900, 1901

(Survived)

 

In July 1900, Peter Nissen came to Niagara Falls to challenge the Niagara River. Nissen had brought with him a specially built boat in an attempt to conquer the great gorge rapids and the whirlpool. His boat was twenty feet long with a six foot wide beam and four foot depth. It was entirely decked over except for a center cockpit. Nissen has air compartments built into the front, back and sides of the cockpit. Nissen first trip through the rapids was successful however his boat became trapped in the Whirlpool for over an hour before being brought to shore. The next day, Nissen completed the trip from the Whirlpool to Lewiston.

Over the winter, Nissen rebuilt his boat. It was longer and two feet narrower with an eight horsepower steam engine. It had a larger rudder and more ballast. After making several successful runs in the river just below the falls, Nissen was ready to challenge the rapids. On October 12th 1901, Nissen rode the boat through the rapids. As he did, he ducked into a crawl space under the cockpit without incident. In a later incident, Peter Nissen and friend James Rich began to do depth soundings in the Whirlpool. While doing so the boat was caught in the vortex of the Whirlpool and damaged severely. Both Nissen and Rich narrowly escaped death but the boat sank.

The first person to actually ride the rapids in a boat was Charles Percy in August 1887. Percy was riding a seventeen foot boat. He made three trips through the rapids in 1887. On Percy's last trip he narrowly escaped death and his boat sank.

On July 4th 1888, Robert Flack of Syracuse, New York was killed in an attempt to copy the feat of Charles Percy. Flack had secured himself into his boat by a number of harnesses. Unfortunately Flack's boat over turned and Flack was unable to free himself before drowning.

 

 

 

 

 

CAPTAIN BILLY JOHNSON

1901

(Survived)

 

On July 4th 1901, Captain Billy Johnson jumped into the Niagara River from the deck of the Maid of the Mist boat just below the Horseshoe Falls and swam down river.

 

 

 

 

 

JOE CHAMBERS

1901

(Survived)

 

On August 2nd 1901, Joe Chambers swam the Lower Rapids (Devils Hole Rapids) between the Whirlpool and Queenston - Lewiston.  Chambers wearing a life buoy arrived safely at the dock in Lewiston, New York.

 

 

 

 

 

MARTHA WAGENFURHER

1901

(Survived)

 

On September 6th 1901, Martha Wagenfurher journeyed through the Whirlpool Rapids in a barrel. Upon reaching the Whirlpool, Wagenfurher became stranded in the middle for such a lengthy period of time that it became necessary to call for the Great Gorge Railway illumination car to be brought to the Whirlpool so its search light could illuminate the water surface. When Wagenfurher was pulled to shore she was exhausted and sea sick but otherwise uninjured.

 

 

 

 

 

MAUD WILLARD

1901

(Died)

 

On September 7th 1901, Maude Willard and Carlisle Graham planned a combined stunt. Willard would traverse the Whirlpool Rapids in Graham's barrel and from the Whirlpool she would continue to Lewiston with Graham swimming behind the barrel.

Willard entered the barrel with her pet dog for the journey through the rapids. As the barrel reached the Whirlpool it became stranding for the next six hours in the middle.

When the barrel was recovered and brought to shore, Maude Willard was dead. Her pet dog jumped out of the barrel uninjured. The dog survived the ordeal by putting its nose to the only air hole the barrel had allowing the dog to breathe which resulted in Willard suffocating to death.

 

 

 

 

 

ANNIE EDSON TAYLOR

1901

(Survived)

 

Annie Taylor survives her plunge over the Falls

An historical picture of Annie Edson Taylor being rescued following her plunge over the Horseshoe Falls

courtesy of John Guthrie

 

On Monday October 21st 1901, Mrs. Annie Edson Taylor shot the Horseshoe Falls this afternoon and survived, a feat, never before accomplished, and, indeed, never attempted except in the deliberate commission of suicide.

Not only did she survive, but she escaped without a broken bone, her only apparent injuries being a slight scalp wound, a moderate concussion, some shock for her nervous system and bruises about the body.

She was conscious when taken out of the barrel. The doctors in attendance upon her tonight said that although she was somewhat hysterical, her condition is not at all serious, and that she probably will be out of bed within a few days.

The initial voyage over Niagara's cataract began at Port Day, nearly a mile from the brink of the falls. From Port Day, Mrs. Taylor and her barrel were taken out to Grass Island, where she entered the barrel, and at 3:50 p.m. she was in tow of a boat speeding well out into the Canadian current. At 4:05 p.m. the barrel was set adrift and Mrs. Taylor was at the mercy of currents in the water that never before have been known to spare a human life once in its grasp. From the spot where the rowboat left the barrel the current runs frightfully swift and soon breaks over the reefs that cause the water to toss in fury. The barrel was weighted with a 200 pound anvil and it floated nicely in the water. Mrs. Taylor apparently retained in an upright position for the greater part of the trip down the River and through the rapids.

Fortunately the barrel was in deep water, and except for passing out of sight several times in the white crested waves, it was in view for the greater part of a mile. In passing over the horseshoe fall the barrel kept toward the Canadian side 300 feet from the center. It dropped over the fall at 4:23 p.m. the bottom of the barrel leading the way. In less than a minute it appeared at the base of the fall and was swept downstream. The current cast it aside in an eddy where it floated back upstream and held between two eddies until captured at 4:40 p.m.

At 2:30 p.m. this afternoon a boat containing Mrs. Taylor, her barrel, Fred Truesdale and William Holleran, pulled out from Port Day, and went to Grass Island.

Just before the boat was pushed off, Mrs. Taylor turned to a Cataract Journal representative and hand him an empty envelope on which was written the address "Mrs. Jane M. Kendall, Eddytown, New York." Mrs. Taylor had written this address just before she left the house to enter the boat and the strong firm hand in which he wrote testified to her coolness and calmness. "This is my sister" said Mrs. Taylor "and in case of accident and I should not come back, will you kindly notify her?"

Mrs. Taylor changed her clothing and entered the barrel there, and at 3:30 p.m., Truesdale and Holleran with the barrel in tow started out into the river. They pulled within 200 yards of the Canadian shore right where the water is good and deep, and there at 4 p.m. said "goodbye" to Mrs. Taylor and the barrel. The current caught the strange craft immediately, and it was swept rapidly toward the tossing waters of the upper rapids.

Truesdale and Holleran rolled the barrel into shallow water at the head of Grass Island. Water was found to be trickling through one of the barrels seems. Truesdale caulked the crevice while Annie lamented the time lost, yearning to get underway. Soaked in water the wooden staves expanded, cutting off the seepage. The men dragged the barrel ashore like before. She did not want to particularly disrobe in front of everyone, nor be seen squeezing her body through the barrels narrow hatch. Graciously the river men, reporters and cameramen retired to the far side of the island. Screened from being viewed by reeds, she peeled off her hat, jacket, and outer skirt and placed them in the boat. Wearing a blue and white shirtwaist opened at the throat, she squirmed into her barrel. Modesty saved, she gave the all clear and the men came back.

She fastened herself into Captain Johnson's harness. Two big cushions were passed in and position for maximum padding. She held a pillow to place on top of her head once the barrels lid was battened down. Facing her as she reclined were the three small air holes in a vertical row. Two were plugged with corks which she could remove if she needed more air. Through a rubber hose screwed into the top hole from inside, the bicycle pump would fill the barrel with air. She would then cork the spout of the hose, and if for air supply became exhausted she could uncork the hose and continue breathing - snorkel fashion.

"Now you may go ahead with the pump" she called out, her voice sounding faint inside the barrel. Holleran eagerly grabbed the bicycle pump and connected it to the barrels valve and began pumping air into the barrel. He pumped for several minutes until the pump began to labour. Panting and puffing, he hollered to Annie, "Have you got enough air?" Taylor replied she had.

When released, the barrel floated at an angle of 45°, but everybody was afraid that an anvil fastened to the bottom would cause it to stick on the rocky ledges.

Nothing like this occurred, however and onward went the barrel. Thousands of spectators watched its progress from every available point, none sure that the woman was in the barrel. The barrel hung well in the Canadian channel. Once or twice a disappeared in the boiling water at the foot of the reefs, but each time it emerged and was carried onward by the current. It rode the waves magnificently.

At 4:23 p.m. every spectator watched breathlessly as the barrel made the plunge over the crest of the Horseshoe Falls passing over about 200 feet toward the Canadian side from the center. The fall was 158 feet.

One minute later the barrel was seen floating in the foaming waters at the foot of the fall. Cheer upon cheer went out by the spectators.

The barrel was all right. Was the woman in it? If so, was she alive?

It swept close to shore between two eddies. At 4:30 p.m., it was captured and pulled out on a rock. When the cover was broken off, Mrs. Taylor raised her arm and waved her hand. The small group of rescuers cheered and the people on the cliffs knew that she was alive and responded with cheers. It was necessary to saw a portion of the top away to get her out. She walked across a plank to the shore and was seen on her way to her boarding house in the Niagara Falls, New York.

The barrel was half filled with water and she had a cut 3 inches long back of her right ear. Her shoulders are strained and she suffered severely from shock.

As the doctors worked over her she said to a correspondent:

"I felt as though I was being knocked pieces in churned all over; that all nature was being annihilated. I thought of trying not to break my neck. I caught on to the side straps. After the men sent me a drift I closed my eyes and prayed God to spare my life. I struck rocks three times and the water seemed to come in the barrel everywhere. I knew when I went over the fall, and lost my senses just a minute. I am not a sporting woman. I have always lived a good life, and am not afraid to face God or man if it was with my dying breath I would warn anybody not to do it. I felt like I was all alone. People here have been good to me and I did this to help those who helped me. I hope some good will come of it. I would rather face a cannon knowing that I would be blown to pieces, then go over the falls again. I feel that I want to offer a prayer to God for sparing my life".

Mrs. Taylor declared that her idea of going over the falls grew old of reading of Captain Webb's feat of undertaking to swim the rapids. Yesterday she admitted that "financial results" was what she was after.

"I do not wish to be classed with women who are seeking notoriety" said Mrs. Taylor, "I am not going over the falls as a mere act of bravado. I feel that something may accrue from it in a financial way". "I first made a barrel of paper in my room in my boarding house in Bay City, prepared myself as if for a trip and got into it. Thus I got my idea as to the proper size of the barrel, then I drew a diagram of it, marked the dimensions and had a copper make it".

"At first I preserved the utmost secrecy about it, not even letting my fellow boarders know of it. But after I got a manager, I learned that I could make nothing of the venture without notoriety. When the newspapers learned of it, I was hounded almost to death by reporters. One of them went so far as to ask me "do you seriously contemplate committing suicide?" I retorted "I hope I do not look like a person who would do that. Why only this morning when I called Mayor Butler to get a permit to sell pictures of myself and barrel, he asked me "are you the fool that's going over the falls?"

As it was landed on a rock out in the river it was difficult to handle but several men soon had the lid off. Mrs. Taylor was alive and conscious but before she could be taken out of the barrel it was necessary to saw a portion of the top away. Her condition was a surprise to all. She walked along the shore to a boat and was taken down the river to the Maid of the Mist dock where she entered a carriage and was brought to Niagara Falls, New York.

She is suffering greatly from the shock. She had a 3 inch cut in her scalp back of her right ear, but how or when she got it she does not know. She complains of pain between the shoulders, but this is thought to be from the fact that her shoulders were thrown back during the plunge, as she had her arms in straps, and these undoubtedly saved her neck from breaking.

In passing over the falls she admits having lost consciousness. While thanking God for sparing her life, she warns everybody against trying to make the trip. So severe was the shock that she wanders in her talk but there is little doubt that she will be in good condition within a day or two.

Three doctors are at her bedside tonight.

The trip was witnessed by several thousand people. The fact that Mrs. Taylor failed to go on Sunday did not lessen the confidence of the public in her. Still everybody was agreed that it was a foolhardy trip.

The Washington Post reported that Minnie Edson Taylor, 50 years old, went over Niagara Falls on the Canadian side this afternoon and survived, a feat never before accomplished and indeed never attempted except in a deliberate commission of suicide. She made the trip in a barrel.

By her calculations, the anvil fastened to the bottom of the barrel kept the foot downward, and so it too landed. Had turned over and landed on its head, Mrs. Taylor's head would have been crushed in and her neck broken.

During her stay here she has impressed everybody with her wonderful nerve. Mrs. Taylor is an interesting well-educated person. She is very much unlike the general run of cranks and fools who do feats or talk of doing them at the falls. She is about 43 years old and good-looking. She says she is a teacher of physical culture and dance schoolteacher and recently came here from Bay City Michigan. She is a graduate of the New York University at Albany New York. She talks of aristocratic friends in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and other large cities.

It was reported that Mrs. Taylor was 43-50 years old at the time. She was born in Auburn New York and has crossed the American continent eight times. Genealogical records confirm the year of Annie’s birth in 1838 however the actual date is subject to much speculation. Taylor claims her birth date was October 21st, the date of her stunt. The best evidence is that Annie Edson Taylor was 63 years of age at the time of her successful stunt. Annie had a propensity to exaggerate the circumstances of her life and age to augment the hype surrounding her stunt.

Annie Taylor was 5'4" tall and she weighed 160 pounds at the time of her stunt.

 

Rescued
 

Carlisle Graham waited on the Canadian shore about 50 yards below the falls. Among the score of others eager to help land the barrel were Graham's friend "Kid" Brady, a featherweight boxer, Capt. Billy Johnson, Maid of the Mist engineer John Ross, and Harry Williams, proprietor of the Lafayette Hotel the Niagara Falls, Ontario.

The barrel veered into Big Bass eddy. Graham and a handful of others leaped onto a reef in the pool. The barrel circled the spume-coated waters several times. Always just beyond the men's reach. Finally a Niagara Falls, Ontario, man named Mark Mundi snagged the barrels towline with a grappling hook. Kid Brady stripped to his swimming suit and slip into the water. Holding on to the rock he grasped the rope and passed it up to Graham. Scrambling back up, Brady joined Graham Ross and Williams as they pulled the heavy barrel out of the water onto the rock. Quickly they cut the lid off. Ross, on his hands and knees, poked his head inside. Cradled on a saturated pillow, a sickly white face turned its eyes upward and blinked in the flood of daylight.

"She's alive!" cried Ross.


The Test Trip

Taylor had hired a promoter of carnivals, fairs and other exhibitions named Frank "Tussie" Russell, age 34 of Bay City. He seemed like a perfect choice to manage a high diving feat. He was hired by Mrs. Taylor to become her manager and promoter. Taylor although wanting little recognition learned that there was little money to be gained without notoriety.

Perhaps one of RusselI`s first jobs was to secure local help to launch Taylor in her barrel from the Niagara River. Inquiries led Russell to the Buffalo Avenue home of the brawling teamster named Fred Truesdale. A strong, wiry man with the black bushy moustache, Trusedale had fished and hunted ducks on the upper river for years and knew its occurrence and temperament like a book. A number of times, at the request of other would be daredevils, Truesdale rowed across the river and dumped a barrel overboard in the current that sweeps over the horseshoe's western rim close to the Canadian shore. It must've been Truesdale who suggested sending Annie's barrel over the falls on a trial run first with a cat inside.

Before the big day came, and before the preliminary test drop, Annie's barrel was removed from the lobby of the state Park hotel and taken to an alleyway, perhaps behind the hotel, were Annie posed for pictures inside her barrel. Crudely hands painted on the staves were the words "Queen of the Mist".

On the afternoon of Friday, October 18th 1901, Russell and several helpers rolled the barrel into a dray and brought Annie’s` pet cat named "Iagara" to Port Day. Here the barrel was loaded into his boat, the cat placed inside, and the manhole cover closed. The barrel was then towed the near the Canadian shore and released. The barrel was carried over the Horseshoe Falls. It was later recovered by Captain Richard F. Carter and a deckhand took a rowboat upstream where they snag the barrel near the Canadian shore contorted back to the dock the lid wasn't screwed and the reportedly jumped out however in reality the cat was dead. The cause of death is said to have been suffocation. The barrel was undamaged.


Aborted Attempt

On Sunday October 20th 1901, Mrs. Taylor made ready for her great adventure. This was the originally scheduled date for her attempted stunt. The weather was clearly an issue and concern for Truesdale and the others as high winds prevailed churning the navigable portion of the river from which they planned to release Taylor inside her barrel. At 2 p.m., in the company of her manager Frank M. Russell and representatives of the press, she arrived at the dock at Port Day. Though it may have caused her some embarrassment she removed most of her outer clothing and stood attired only in trunks and a jacket. A few moments later she slid through the opening in the top of the barrel which floated in shallow water near the quay. Her barrel was towed out to the middle of the River however high winds precluded its release and the journey was cancelled by Truesdale and she was returned to shore.

Family History

Merrick Edson married Lucretia Waring. Merrick operated a large flour mill that he owned on the Owasco River in Auburn New York

Anna Edson was the fourth child and second daughter of Merrick and Lucretia. Anna was born in Cayuga County New York in 1838. Genealogical records confirm the year of Annie’s birth however the actual date is subject to much speculation. Mr. and Mrs. Edson had 11 children: four girls and seven boys.

When Annie was 12 years of age her father died. He was killed in a tree cutting accident on the farm on March 23rd 1850. Her mother Lucretia died not long afterwards. At the age of 14 she and her two older brothers John and Delano were sent by their guardian to attend the Conference Seminary and Collegiate Institute in the Village of Charlottesville, New York about 50 miles west of Albany.

During her stay at the seminary she roomed with another student by the name of Jennie Taylor. They became close friends and eventually became relatives when Jennie married Annie's brother Delano and in 1856, following four years of school, Annie married Jennie's brother David Taylor, a medical student from Branchport New York. David was 11 to 13 years older than Annie was at the time of their marriage. They had one child who died several days following birth.

It is believed that her husband David enlisted in the 19th infantry in Auburn New York in 1861. He was a first lieutenant in the Union Army. Taylor was wounded in battle at Weldon Railroad in Virginia on June 21-23rd 1864 and later died of his wounds. Although Annie claims to have been widowed at the age of 20 it was more likely that she was widowed in her mid to late 20s.

She decided to become a schoolteacher, one of the few occupations open to American women in the 1800s. She became a teacher of physical culture and dance. In 1898, she moved to Bay City, Michigan from San Antonio, Texas. Work in Michigan was sparse. Taylor was becoming increasingly lonely, impoverish and despondent.



Annie Taylor’s Version of Stunt


Mrs. Anna Edson Taylor describes her sensations during the passage over Niagara Falls in a barrel:

"Then I said to Mr. Truesdale, the boatman, that he could cut me loose, but when he did so to wrap on the barrel with his ore. A moment later came the warning rap and I was off, but not before I cried out to Mr. Truesdale- “there is water coming in here.” He answered, "There isn't enough to do any harm and you'll be over in 5 minutes.”

Mr. Truesdale's voice seemed to come from a great distance, to be swallowed up in a steady roar of the falls. I thought my heart would burst when I was when I realized that I was set loose and was floating toward the falls. My heartbeat so hard I thought it would suffocate me, but it was too late to back out.”

The barrel flowed smoothly on for while, it seemed to me, and then suddenly it plunged down over the first drop, about 15 feet high. I struck on the rocks, and the barrel rolled over and over. After this it seemed to me as if I went around a curve and I rolled over again and hung against a rock. It was just as if I could feel myself hanging on the edge of a sheer precipice and shutting my eyes before the drop into the abyss.

Now I tell you I knew exactly where I was. I knew I was on the edge of the precipice, and braced myself for the shock, and I think that for about 3 seconds I lost my reason. I did not faint, but my mind was gone. I was oblivious of everything.

The next thing I knew I was in the cataract below. It must've been the velocity of going over that took my senses away. I realized that I was in the cataract under the falls. I can only describe the fearful sensation by linking it to the movement of a dasher in a churn.

It was is if you had turned me with all your might and pushed me around and around at the same time, over this way, and over that way, and round and round, and thrust up and down with joy and force. It was a tremendous churn!

But the barrel, in spite of these terrible thrusts and the wild whirls, was standing up. The water was up to my waist, and I was on my knees in the bottom of the barrel, more dead than alive. Every time the barrel bobbed up it seemed almost jumped out of the water.

Those mighty jumps were terrible. Every time it came down it seemed to strike upon a rock. It would stand on the rock and grind and grind. Water was coming in from the top, and my hands were in it, but my arms were tight bound in the loops.

The awful rolling knock my head first on the front of the barrel and then on the back. I expected to be killed at any moment, but even at that I was not sorry that I was where I was.

Then all at once, the barrel gave a tremendous jump. It seemed to me it leaped 15 or 20 feet in the air, like a streak of lightning, and I lost my senses again.

When I came to myself, I was going around like this (waving her hands in a swift, rotary motion). The barrel was standing straight up, but revolving so rapidly that I was dazed and dizzy, but I remember thinking, "this is the place where things go down and disappear forever", and I kept running this over in my mind again and again.

And now, for the first time, I began to have hope, and with it came the feeling of pardonable triumph. I had succeeded, and although I was spent and weak, I was eager and confident that somebody might come and pull me out quick. If I was strong enough I would have screamed with delight when I felt the barrel being dragged to shore.”


The Barrel

The barrel that Annie Taylor had taken in her journey over the falls was made of white Kentucky Oak of an inch and a half in thickness with 10 hoops, each riveted every 4 inches. The barrel was made by the Bocenchia Cooperage Company of West Bay City, Michigan. The barrel was 22 inches in circumference at the head, 34 inches in circumference in the middle and 15 inches in circumference at the foot. The barrel was 4 1/2 feet high, weighing 160 pounds. Each stave was oiled thinking the barrel would shed water better because of the oil.

To provide ballast and to keep the barrel upright in the water, a blacksmiths anvil had been bolted with iron bars to the barrels underside. A small hole had been drilled near the top of the barrel into which a threaded rubber air hose would be screwed to allow Annie to breathe, snorkel fashion in case she exhausted the barrels limited air supply.

The manhole was U-shaped measuring 12 x 14". It was not circular and not at all cut to suit Annie's rather buxom contours of the stout widow. Covering the manhole was a bar of wood for inches thick. Through this lid a heavy iron screw ran. A bar dropped over this and a not placed on the screw was fastened down by a wrench. Taylor was in the barrel one hour and 15 minutes.

Taylor believed that she would not be in the barrel over 50 minutes and that she would have air enough in it to last her that length of time. It will hold about 30 square feet of air when the bicycle pump is applied. Besides, the barrel will have a valve which Taylor could open to admit more air in case the barrel should remain below the falls longer than she estimated.

A leather harness and cushions inside protected her body. Air was secured through a rubber tube connected with a small opening near the top of the barrel. It is softly padded with the usual type of netting. It is also equipped with four sets of grips so that the occupant can support herself no matter what angle it may turn in the river. Mrs. Taylor said she desired to make the trip in such a way she won't have to look at the water. She will enter the barrel a long way up the river so that she won't be aware of any potential dangers as she floats towards the falls. This will enable her to retain her nerve though she really has no fear of the coming experience.

“I shall have a pillow above my head it will just fit the space that will be between my head in the barrel head. Then I shall have another pillow back of my head, another one in front of it, a belt around my waist to hold me in the center and prevent my coming in violent contact with either the head or the foot of the barrel, and metal handles fastened to the sides, to which I can hold firmly in further precaution against a collision of my head with the top of the barrel. The foot of the barrel will be weighted to an extent of 150 pounds, so I believe it will land feet first and on the slant, cleaving the water outward, while I am in a half reclined position.”


She immediately proceeded to get into the barrel and was not long in getting ready. The barrel lay on its side, for the air holes near the head were over her face as she reclined within. She had her harness on. This was the belt Captain Billy Johnson, the lifesaver had advised her to use. She had sought his advice and he had tried to dissuade her from making the trip. The device was a belt that fits around the waist with a strap running from the middle of the back of the belt down through an iron hasp in the floor of the barrel and back up in front of the belt where it fastened with a buckle. This was designed to hold her fast to the bottom of the barrel when it was in its most upright position in the water so that her head could not bump against the top of the barrel. Two large cushions protected the front and back of her body from the shoulders to knees, and she had a pillow to place over her head when the manhole cover was in place. The button that held it was of the same kind of wood, being about 12 inches long, 3 inches wide and 2 1/2 inches thick. Around the edges of the manhole cover Mrs. Taylor had tacked a strip of rubber to make it fit snug. Mrs. Taylor called out that she could see daylight through a crevice on one side of the cover and asked that they plug it up. They tamped a strip of cloth firmly into it. Mrs. Taylor said it was all right.

Although her older sister and four of her brothers were still alive, her thoughts at the prospect of death turned to another to whom she felt a closer bond: her sister-in-law, the former Jane Taylor. Since their old school days at Charlottesville, Jane, now Mrs. Jane Kendall, had remained her trusted friend, and more recently her only on begrudging benefactor.


After the Stunt

Following her stunt, Annie made a number of appearances at local gatherings including the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo. She spoke of her experiences and sold postcards of she and her barrel along with a short biographical story she had written.

Shortly afterwards, she and her manager Frank Russell became embroiled in a monetary dispute during which Russell made off with Taylor’s barrel as a ransom. Through the courts, Taylor was able to recover the barrel. Russell was by now fired.

Taylor hired a new manager. His name was William A. Banks of Youngstown, Ohio. Ultimately Banks deserted Annie stealing her barrel Taylor had received word Banks, was rumoured to have sold her barrel to a certain theatrical company for a sum of $500. Taylor was never able to recover her coveted barrel.

From 1912 until the close of 1919 Mrs. Taylor maintained a residence on Cherry Street in the south end of Niagara Falls it was during this period that she became a familiar figure in souvenir shops and on the sidewalks where she cajoled tourists to purchase copies of her biographical sketch. For several months at a time each year she left the city to visit her older sister Mrs. Kendall. On November 6, 1919 it was reported that Annie Taylor was almost completely blind.

On March 4, 1921 Mrs. Taylor, penniless broken health, despondent, and sightless was taken to the Niagara County infirmary at Lockport New York. The examining physicians concluded her blindness was permanent and she probably had but a few weeks to live.

At 4:30 p.m. on April 30, 1921, Annie Edson Taylor died. To save her from the disgrace of the paupers’ grave, a few friends started a movement to raise funds to have her buried in historic Oakwood Cemetery where rest the remains of Capt. Matthew Webb, Carlisle Graham, Francis Abbott and other heroes of Niagara Falls were buried. In July of 1933 her grave was marked by a polished stone measuring 2 feet high 16 inches across. The inscription on the tombstone reads:

 


Annie Edson Taylor
first to go over the Horseshoe Fall in a barrel and live
October 24, 1901



Annie Taylor inside her barrel

An historical picture of Annie Edson Taylor in her barrel following her plunge over the Horseshoe Falls

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 


 

 

 

CAPTAIN KLAUS LARSEN

1910

(Survived)

 

On September 18th 1910, Captain Klaus Larsen was the only boater to show up in response to an advertisement by the Niagara International Carnival Committee promoting a boat race through the Whirlpool Rapids.

As the only participant, Larsen rode his boat through the rapids to the Whirlpool. Larsen began the second leg of his journey through the Lower Rapids (Devils Hole Rapids) on route to Queenston. During this portion of his trip, Larsen's boat was swamped and Larsen was tossed into the water within sight of Queenston.

Larsen was able to make his way to shore and finished his trip to Queenston aboard the Great Gorge Railway.

On October 28th 1911, Captain Larsen made a successful trip through the Whirlpool Rapids in his boat. Larsen successfully repeated this same stunt on October 29th 1911.  

 

 

 

 

 

LINCOLN BEACHY

1911

(Survived)

 

Lincoln Beachy

Lincoln Beachy flying his biplane under the Upper Steel Arch Bridge

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

Lincoln Beachy was born in San Francisco in 1887.  At the age of 18 years, Beachy built his own dirigible. He was a short man with a jutting jaw.

The first airplane to appear over Niagara Falls came in June 1911 in response to a $1,000 prize offered to anyone piloting an aircraft to attend the joint United States - Canadian International Carnival at Buffalo and Fort Erie.

The airplane was a Curtiss biplane and was piloted by Lincoln Beachy an American employed by Curtiss Aircraft Company of Nebraska. The Curtiss biplane had an open cockpit and was a two winged plane.

On June 28th 1911 at 5:40 p.m., Beachy took off from an airfield in Niagara Falls, New York climbing high into the sky, Beachy circled his plane over the falls several times before diving down into the mist of the falls to within twenty feet of the waters surface before flying under the arch of the Falls View Honeymoon Bridge. Beachy continued to fly his plane just above the river surface along the length of the gorge at a speed of 50 mph before climbing back up high into the sky before he reached the two rail bridges. Lincoln Beachy was the first person to fly under a Niagara Falls bridge.

Beachy was killed on March 14th 1915 during a flying exhibition over San Francisco, California. Beachy's aircraft crashed into San Francisco Bay.

 

Lincoln Beachy

Lincoln Beachy sitting at the controls of an early aircraft

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

 

 

 

 

BOBBY LEACH

1910, 1911

(Survived)

 

Bobbie Leach and his barrel

Bobby Leach

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

Bobby Leach had a reputation in England as a circus stuntman. He had attracted attention to himself by announcing the intention of becoming the first person to complete the "triple challenge". This included:

1.) making a barrel trip through the rapids to the whirlpool,

2.) going over the Falls in a barrel, and

3.) parachuting from the Upper Suspension Bridge into the  river upstream of the rapids.

On July 1st 1908, Leach jumped off the Upper Steel Arch Bridge using a parachute to become the fourth (4th) person to do so.

During the summer of 1910, Leach returned to Niagara Falls to test his barrel. He attempted to ride the barrel through the Great Gorge Rapids to the Whirlpool. Leach had attached an anchor to his barrel but it was cut loose by rocks. Leach's barrel bounced from rock to rock through the rapids before becoming stuck in an eddy in the Whirlpool. Leach was rescued by William "Red" Hill Sr.. Hill had to risk his life by swimming out to Leach's barrel and dragging it into shore. Leach was removed from the barrel unconscious. Hill Sr. climbed into the barrel and rode it through the lower rapids to Queenston. During that summer, Leach made three (3) other successful trips through the famous Whirlpool Rapids.

In addition, Bobby Leach made two aborted attempts to swim across the Niagara River down river from the American Falls.

On the afternoon of July 25th 1911, Bobby Leach climbed into an eight foot long steel drum at Navy Island where the current of the Niagara River veers towards the Canadian shore. The drum was released at 2:55 p.m.. It took eighteen minutes to reach the brink of the Horseshoe Falls before going over. It took 22 minutes to recover the drum. It had become stuck in the river at the base of the falls before Fred Bender (an Ontario Power Company employee) tied a rope around his waist and swam to where the barrel was. Bender tied a rope to the barrel and it was hauled to the Canadian shore. Leach was removed from the drum and rushed to the hospital suffering from two broken knee caps and a broken jaw.

Twenty three weeks later, Bobby Leach left the hospital and went on tour with his barrel throughout North America and Europe. Leach did return to Niagara Falls to parachute from an airplane.

On July 1st 1920, Bobby Leach jumped using  a parachute from an airplane. He repeated this feat again on October 10th 1925. In both cases Leach landed in corn fields on Canadian soil near the Niagara Gorge. Records are vague as to his parachute jump.

While in Niagara Falls, Bobby Leach purchased and operated a restaurant.

In April of 1926, Bobby Leach died at the age of 70 years in Christchurch, New Zealand as a result of an accidental slip on an orange peel while on his daily walk. His fractured leg had become infected and was amputated. Two months later he died in hospital.

 

 

 

 

 

OSCAR WILLIAMS

1911

"THE GREAT HOUDIN"

aka: OSCAR WILSON

 

(Survived)

 

Oscar Williams (a.k.a. Oscar Wilson) came to Niagara Falls in June of 1911. Williams called himself "The Great Houdin". He was a steeplejack by trade and lived in Niagara Falls, New York.

Niagara Falls, New York - June 14th 1910

The Great Houdin, a tight-wire performer, entertained a holiday crowd this afternoon at an international carnival here, but hardly in the manner he intended. He was on the programme for a trip across the Niagara Gorge on a quarter inch diameter cable, holding fast by his teeth. His wire was stretched 100 feet north of the Upper Steel Arch Bridge, a point where it was intended his feat would be witnessed by a crowd of 80,000 assembled on the State Reservation, as well as in Queen Victoria Park.


He mounted his wire and began sliding from the New York bank toward the Canadian shore. Houdin was waving the flags of both countries as he slid along the wire. A slope was planned for the wire, but the weight of his body quickly pulled the strand, making it too slack. Houdin had to stop at a point over the centre of the river approximately 1,100 feet from the American shore and still 600 feet away from completing his journey. For a few minutes the immense audience applauded his feat, but when he did not continue toward Canada It was apparent that he was in difficulties, which he indicated by waving flags.

Awe-stricken, the crowds looked on while the man, diminutive in form, struggled to retain his hold on the small pulley from which he was suspended. Houdin grabbed the cable with both his hands and then crossed his legs over the wire and hung that way for 45 minutes until he could be rescued. Houdin was not more than 200 feet north of the Upper Steel Arch Bridge that had been closed to traffic sometime before his scheduled trip however there were several hundred people on the bridge watching as events unfolded
 

Firemen were called and responded with several hundred feet of rope. A loop was tied in the rope around the cable with about 300 feet on one side and several hundred feet on the other. One end was thrown over the bank and the foreman slid it along on the cable by walking along on the bridge. Houdin had shifted his position repeatedly and when the rope finally neared him, he almost lost his balance as he reached for it, so eager was he to accept the succor offered. When it was seen that he had grasped the rope, a cheer went up from the anxious crowd that could be heard above the roar of the great cataract. When it reached Houdin the rope was cast off from the bank and it dropped to the lower river where the steamer Maid of the Mist observing that something was amiss picked up the lower end. The little steamer struggled with the current, but kept well under Houdin, who safely lowered himself hand over hand to reach the boat, a distance of nearly 200 feet. Another great cheer arose when Houdin was hauled safely aboard and sank to the deck completely exhausted.

Houdin's real name was Oscar Williams, a steeplejack from Niagara Falls, NewYork.

Niagara Falls, New York - June 28th 1911

On June 28th 1911, Houdin returned to Niagara Falls to mark the closing of the annual Niagara International Carnival. Other star performers included Lincoln Beachey and Robert Leach. A crowd of 300,000 spectators had gathered to watch the events.


Leach shot the Whirlpool Rapids in a steel barrel where he became stranded in the whirlpool before being rescued. Beachey had flown his bi-plane over the Horseshoe Falls and under the Upper Steel Arch Bridge the day before without incident. Today Beachey battling high winds narrowly escaped crashing into the river below.


Houdin had undertaken to repeat his failed feat from the previous year by sliding by his teeth across the Niagara Gorge situated under the Upper Steel Arch Bridge. This time Houdin began his slide for life on the Canadian shore. Within 100 feet of the American shore, Houdin became stranded once more because of a slack wire. Houdin remained marooned until he was hauled ashore by rope.

 

 

 

 

PETER LANGAARD

1911

(Survived)

 

On October 24th 1911, Peter Langaard successfully navigated the Whirlpool in a boat. Langaard's boat struck  a piece of driftwood while circling the Whirlpool losing the propeller from his boat motor.

Without power, Langaard was stranded in the Whirlpool for four hours and twenty minutes before being rescued.

 

 

 

 

CHARLES STEPHENS

1920

(Died)

 

Charles Stephens came to Niagara Falls to challenge the Niagara River during the summer of 1920. Stephens was a 58 year old barber from Bristol, England. He was the father of eleven children. His wife was named Annie. He had acquired a reputation of daredevil in Europe where he made a number of high dives and several parachute jumps. In Bristol, England he was known as the "Demon Barber of Bristol".

On July 11th 1920, Charles Stephens went over the Horseshoe Falls in a barrel made from Russian oak. Bobby Leach advised Stephens not to make his journey until Stephen's barrel was perfected. Stephens refused because he thought Leach did not want him to be a success like Annie Taylor and Bobby Leach. Leached asked William "Red" Hill Sr. to speak to Stephens.

Hill Sr. suggested that Stephens send his barrel over the Falls unoccupied for the first time as a test but Stephens refused. The barrel was heavy and had straps for Stephens arms. As ballast, Stephens strapped an anvil to his feet while Leach and Hill Sr. looked on in amazement and horror. Charles Stephens was a stubborn man. He was reluctantly persuaded to take a small tank of oxygen with him. He wore only padded clothing.

Because of the possibility of the police trying to stop him, Stephens decided to begin his trip over the Horseshoe Falls with little fanfare at 8:10 a.m.. Stephens left from Snyder's point located about three miles upstream from the Falls. Leach was so certain that a tragedy was going to take place that he left not wanting to watch. Stephens went over the brink at 8:55 a.m.. When the huge barrel hit the water at the base of the waterfall, the anvil which was tied to Stephens feet was propelled through the bottom of the barrel taking Stephens to his death.

The remnants of the barrel remained trapped at the base of the Falls until its iron rings broke away. When recovered, only the tattooed right arm of Stephens was still strapped in the harness. The tattoo read "Forget Me Not Annie".

Stephens arm is buried in an unmarked grave at Drummond Hill Cemetery in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Charles Stephens became famous for being the first of the barrel stunters to die challenging the Falls.

It would be eight years before another daredevil would challenge the river again.

In 1991, the only surviving child Viola Cogan age 81 years visited the Horseshoe Falls. Ms Cogan was present in 1920 when her father made his fatal plunge.

 

 

 

 

 

VINCENT TAYLOR

1927

(Survived)

 

On September 5th 1927, Vincent Taylor, an Australian daredevil, made a parachute jump from the Upper Steel Arch Bridge.

 

 

 

 

 

JEAN LUSSIER

1928

(Survived)

 

Jean Lussier posing with Red Hill Sr.

Jean Lussier (right) posing with William "Red" Hill Sr. (center)

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

On July 4th 1928, Jean Lussier a 36 year old French speaking man from Springfield, Massachusetts came to Niagara Falls and made history by going over the falls in a rubber ball and by being the first person to utilize an inflated rubber craft instead of the more conventional wooden barrel or steel drum.

Joseph Albert Jean Lussier was born in Concord, New Hampshire. His French Canadian parents moved back to Quebec shortly after Lussier was born. At age 16, Lussier returned to New Hampshire in order to learn English. Lussier was working in a grocery store when he heard about the Charles Stephens tragedy in Niagara Falls. Lussier went on vacation to Niagara Falls and to learn more about Stephens fatal ride over the falls in a barrel. Lussier became interested in challenging Niagara Falls himself.

With a design in mind, Lussier went to an Akron, Ohio rubber company to develop his idea. Lussier put up his life savings of $1,500 to finance his dream. It was called a rubber ball being six feet in diameter with inner and outer steel bands. It was lined with thirty-two inner tubes for shock protection with an empty space in the middle for himself including an air cushion. Lussier weighed 154 pounds. The rubber ball had 150 pounds of hard rubber ballast for the bottom to keep the ball from spinning head over bottom. Lussier had devised a system of valves to provide air from tanks containing enough oxygen to keep him alive for forty hours just in case he was trapped under the waterfalls.

On July 4th 1928, Lussier managed to elude police and rowed his ball out to the middle of the Niagara River about two miles upstream of the Horseshoe Falls. Here the ball carrying Lussier was cut free and began its journey towards the falls. The 150 pound ballast bottom was ripped out from the bottom before the ball reached the crest of the falls. At 3:35 p.m., the rubber ball went over the Horseshoe Falls. Three inner tubes burst and the frame was badly damaged. At 4:23 p.m., the rubber ball was picked up by the Maid of the Mist boat and towed back to shore. Lussier sustained only minor bruising.

In order to profit from his success, Lussier began selling off pieces of his rubber ball to tourists. When he sold out Lussier began selling pieces of rubber that he would purchase from a near by tire store. At the beginning of World War Two, Lussier was rejected from service because of his age. Lussier worked in a defense factory until the end of the war.

In 1952, at the age of 61 years Jean Lussier had a dream of being the only man to ever go over the American Falls as well as the Horseshoe Falls. Lussier began making plans for another ball device twice as big as the rubber one he had used over the Horseshoe Falls. This ball would be 12 feet in diameter and weigh 550 with him included. The ball would have three layers made of cork, aluminium and rubber with a series of braces. The inner ball would be mounted on roller bearings in order to stay upright at all times. In addition it would have a forty-eight hour air supply and a radio system. The dream ended with Jean Lussier's advanced age. He retired in 1958 as did his dream.

Lussier died in his mid 70's while living in Niagara Falls, New York.

 

 

 

 

GEORGE L. STRATHAKIS

1930

(Died)

 

In 1930, George Strathakis came to Niagara Falls to challenge the Niagara River. He was a 46 years old bachelor.

Strathakis was born in Greece in 1916. Before emigrating from Greece, he had become a religious mystic. With no previous experience, Strathakis saw a way of raising money for the publication of his books on metaphysical experiences.

 George Strathakis lived in Buffalo, New York where he was employed as a chef. Strathakis however wanted to become a professional writer.

Strathakis wrote in one of his yet unpublished books that he was born a thousand years ago on the banks of the River Abraham in Central Africa. He spoke of Niagara Falls in a mystical sense.

Strathakis would often take a rowboat into the Niagara River. Each trip would take him closer to the Falls and the roar of the great thunder. The death of Charles Stephens in 1920 and the success of Jean Lussier in 1928 provided Strathakis with the desire to follow in their footsteps.

Strathakis and his friends began building a barrel. His plan called for the creation of a two thousand pound vehicle. Rather than build on the successful design of Lussier's rubber ball, Strathakis decided to construct his barrel on the basic design utilized by Charles Stephens by using lots of wood and steel. The size and strength of Strathakis' barrel proved impressive.

Strathakis rode his barrel over the Horseshoe Falls on July 5th 1930. The barrel survived undamaged. George Strathakis made one very serious miscalculation. He had taken with him an air supply for only eight hours. Strathakis' barrel became stuck behind the Falls and was held for twenty-two hours before being released in an eddy. When the barrel was recovered and the lip opened, Strathakis had died of suffocation. Strathakis had taken his fondest friend - pet turtle "Sonny" with him in the barrel. The turtle which was believed to be 150 years old, survived the journey.

The medical examiner was Doctor W. Thompson. Following his death, no one claimed the body of George Strathakis.

Of the seven human bearing barrels to go over the Horseshoe Falls, Strathakis' barrel was the only one to ever get caught behind the wall of water.

One year later, Red Hill Sr. would ride in Strathakis' barrel through the rapids and the whirlpool.

 

 

 

 

 

WILLIAM "RED" HILL Sr.

1930

(Survived)

 

William "Red" Hill Sr.

William "Red" Hill Sr.

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

William "Red" Hill Sr. was born in Niagara Falls, Ontario in 1888.

On May 30th 1930, a large crowd estimated at twenty-five thousand lined both sides of the Niagara River from the Horseshoe Falls to Queenston - Lewiston to witness a spectacular feat performed by legendary river man William "Red" Hill Sr. At the age of 42 years, Hill Sr. was going to fulfil his promise to challenge the Great Gorge Rapids and the Whirlpool from the docks of the Maid of the Mist .

Hill Sr.'s barrel was of steel construction, six feet long and three feet in diameter. Its interior was only five feet long because Hill Sr. had built in six inch bulkheads at both ends. This barrel had a fourteen inch by eighteen inch manhole to allow entry which was covered by a sliding steel cover sealed with rubber gaskets. There were air holes on the sides of the barrel with were plugged with cork to allow them to be opened in an emergency. It was weighted by a steel keel welded to its bottom consisting of a one hundred and fifty pound section of railroad track. The barrel was equipped with a harness system so that Hill Sr. would lay prone but suspended away from the walls. The barrel weighed 620 pounds and was painted bright red with gold lettering with "William Red Hill, Master Hero of Niagara inscribed on the sides.

At 1:15 p.m. May 30th 1930, Hill Sr. climbed into the barrel and set off on his journey. Because of the eddies it took Hill Sr. one hour and forty minutes before the river released his barrel and he was allowed to continue. His trip through the rapids to the whirlpool took ninety seconds. At the whirlpool, the barrel became stuck in the vortex. After three and a half hours, Hill Sr. and his friends were able to free the barrel so Hill Sr. could resume his trip to Queenston - Lewiston. Hill Sr. arrived at the Queenston docks at 6:15 p.m. where he was met by thousands of people including his wife and sons Red Jr., Major and Norman. He suffered a few minor bruises. He went back to work driving a taxi the next day.

This was Hill Sr.'s second trip through the rapids. His first performance occurred in 1910 using the barrel of Bobby Leach. Red Hill Sr. made his third trip through the same rapids on Memorial Day 1931, using the barrel of George Strathakis. Strathakis died in this barrel while attempting to go over the Falls on July 5th 1930. Hill Sr. survived this trip as well but the barrel had sprung a leak and was half full by the time it reached the Whirlpool. Again the barrel became caught in the vortex. Only through the heroic efforts of his son William "Red" Hill Jr. who swam out with a rope attached to his waist to tie onto the barrel did Hill Sr. survive.

The next day Hill Sr. went back to the whirlpool and continued his journey in the barrel to Queenston.

Red Hill Sr. had officially been credited with saving the lives of twenty-eight persons from drowning. He received more lifesaving awards from the Canadian Government than any man before or since.

Red Hill Sr. was the foremost expert in the knowledge of the rivers treacherous tides, undertows, whirlpool and eddies. He had grown up near the gorge and it was his playground. During his lifetime, Red Hill Sr. recovered the bodies of one hundred and seventy-seven persons who had died from accidents or suicides.

Hill Sr. was a mighty swimmer, once having swam from the foot of the American Falls through the boiling cauldron to the Canadian shore in a record time of eleven minutes. He won his first Canadian Government lifesaving medal at the age of nine years.

In February 1912, a spectacular tragedy known as the "Ice Bridge Disaster" turned the spotlight on Hill Sr. in a large way. Shifting winds sent thousands of tons of ice from Lake Erie over the Falls into the gorge below creating a massive ice jam as thick as a hundred feet. Prior to 1912 both American and Canadian Governments tolerated persons crossing over the ice bridge or building shacks.

Near noon on Sunday February 4th 1912, in below zero temperatures, the ice bridge began to shake and groan. Red Hill Sr. was sitting in one of the shacks with several of his friends. Hill Sr. sensed that the ice was breaking up and made a dash to the Canadian shore. A short distance away he saw a small group of tourists who appeared frozen by fear. Hill Sr. went back to them and ushered them to shore with the exception of four people. An ice flow broke loose carrying a pair of newly weds, Mr. & Mrs. Ellwood Stanton of Toronto and an eighteen year old would be rescuer Burrell Peacock of Cleveland. All three persons died as the ice flow on which they were riding reached the Great Gorge Rapids.

On August 8th 1918, a scow engaged in dredging had broken loose of its mooring above the upper rapids and drifted out of control towards the Horseshoe Falls. Gustave Luffberg and Frank Harris, both dredging employees were on board the scow. Frantically, they opened the two holes in the bottom of the scow dropping its load. As a result the scow became caught on reef rocks only several hundred feet from the brink of the Falls. A rescue boat could not be utilized to rescue the two men . The United States Coast Guard however were called from Youngstown, New York to assist. When they arrived they mounted their gun on the roof of the Toronto Power House. The first shot to the scow with a rope was successful. A line was strung from the power house to the scow. A breeches buoy followed the line but became snarled half way across.

With night approaching, Red Hill Sr. went out hand over hand along the rope as his body was tugged by the current of the rapids. Red Hill Sr. reached the tangled breech buoy and was unable to untangle it in order to allow the rescue of the crew of the scow without any loss of life.

Hill Sr. spent the waning years of his life showing off his barrel and selling pictures of himself in a souvenir store. On May 14th 1942, William Red Hill Sr. at the age of 54 years, died of a heart attack at the Niagara Falls Hospital.

 

 

 

 

 

WILLIAM "RED" HILL Jr.

1945

(Died)

William "Red" Hill Jr.

William "Red" Hill Jr. posing in the Whirlpool

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

William "Red" Hill Jr. had to fill the shoes of his father in order to carry on the dramatic multi-headlined legend that his very name demanded that he uphold. There is no doubt that he tried. Red Hill Jr. had helped out on most of his fathers twenty-eight rescues. He helped his father in the recovery of 117 of 177 corpse recovered.

On his own Red Hill Jr. pulled another 28 dead bodies from the river.

Red Hill Jr. twice made the strenuous and dangerous swim from the base of the American Falls to the Canadian shore, but he failed to equal his fathers time of eleven minutes.

In order to match his father, Hill Jr. twice conquered the Great Gorge Rapids and Whirlpool in a barrel.

Red Hill Jr. made his first trip on July 8th 1945. A crowd of two hundred thousand had lined the banks of the Niagara River to watch this spectacle. In order to thwart the police the exact time and starting point were not given advance notice. Hill Jr. would be using a six feet long, 720 pound all steel barrel. In order to create a diversion of his own he announced at 2:00 p.m. he would launch at the Maid of the Mist dock while knowing full well that the police would be there to stop him. The decoy strategy worked perfectly. The bright red barrel had already been lowered down into the gorge just upstream of the rapids during the predawn hours.

Shortly after 2:00 p.m., Red Hill Jr. climbed into the barrel and set out on his journey. It was immediately caught in the forty-two mile per hour current and drawn into the rapids. Just before reaching the actual rapids, the barrel was struck by a cross wave and tossed twenty feet into the air and somersaulting twice before landing back into the churning water. As the barrel hit the Whirlpool it was caught by the vortex. Red Hill's brothers Major and Norman rowed out and brought the barrel to shore. Hill Jr. complained of dizziness but climbed back into his barrel to complete his journey to Queenston.

After completing the two and a half hour trip, Hill Jr. and his mother went to Fairview Cemetery to lay a wreath on his fathers grave. Later that evening, Hill Jr.'s mother suffered a heart attack.

Red Hill Jr. made his second trip through the rapids on September 6th 1948. This time Hill Jr. used a barrel weighing approximately one thousand pounds. This trip started the same as the first when the barrel was tossed approximately forty feet in the air by a wave. Within five minutes the barrel entered the Whirlpool where it spun out of control for more than an hour. From time to time the strong vortex of the Whirlpool actually pulled the huge barrel under the water surface. Again his brother saved Hill Jr. by pulling the barrel to shore. Hill Jr. was badly bruised. Hill Jr. bailed out water from the barrel for an hour before he climbed back into it to continue his journey to Queenston. Hill Jr. arrived at the Queenston dock after his four and a half hour ordeal.

Red Hill Jr. acquired fame but the fortune eluded him. A month after his second ride, a bailiff seized all of his goods and chattels for sale at a public auction in order to satisfy three creditors. All three barrels the Hill family had were taken away as well and sold for twenty-nine hundred dollars.

On the last Saturday of July 1949, Major Hill decided it was time to restore the legends financial status. Major Hill age 38 years, challenged the Great Gorge Rapids in a 625 pound torpedo shaped steel barrel. The barrel took such an awful pounding that Major Hill had to be hauled up the gorge in a basket and hospitalized. Major Hill's journey was a failure in terms of media coverage and financial.

The dream of a fitting memorial to Red Hill Sr. weighed heavily on the shoulders of Red Hill Jr. It was because of this unfulfilled desire the Hill Jr. began planning to ride over the Horseshoe Falls.

Red Hill Jr. age 38 years, set his date with destiny for August 5th 1951. Because of the lack of funds and support Hill Jr. had to build a cheap barrel. Hill Jr. constructed what he would refer to as "the Thing", a contraption consisting of thirteen large heavy duty inner tubes lashed together by three inch wide canvass webbing. These were then encased in a heavy gauge fish netting. Hill Jr. painted his contraption silver with the words "The Thing" inscribed all around the tube.

The tube was launched at 1:30 p.m. from Ushers Creek located on the Canadian shoreline approximately three miles upstream from the Horseshoe Falls. At 3:30 p.m. the tube with Red Hill Jr. inside rode through the upper rapids to the brink of the Horseshoe falls and over. The vast crowd was silenced. The Thing was caught under the extreme pressure of the falling water and broken apart.. It was two minutes before parts of the rubber tubes began to surface. There was no sign of Red Hill Jr. The silence was shattered by Hill Junior's mother frantically calling out for him. Hill Junior's wife and ten year old daughter joined his mother for the long vigil while his brothers: Major, Norman & Wesley searched for his body.

The next morning the badly battered body of William Red Hill Jr. was found near the Maid of the Mist dock. The lower part of his body was badly mangled and his forehead had a large laceration. He was buried the following Thursday at Fairview Cemetery in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Following the death of Red Hill Jr., there was a public outcry over his needless death. This public condemnation resulted in then Ontario Premier: Leslie Frost to issue a special order to the directors of the Niagara Parks Commission to arrest anyone who commits an act of stunting upon the properties of the Niagara Parks. Since that day, no permission has been granted to allow any stunting within the park. 

 

 

 

 

 

MAJOR LLOYD HILL

1949

(Survived)

 

Major Lloyd Hill was following in the foot steps of his famous daredevil family. He was the son of William "Red" Hill Sr. and the brother of William "Red" Hill Jr. both accomplished daredevils of Niagara.

On July 30th 1949, Major Lloyd Hill using a six hundred and fifty (650) pound barrel successfully navigated the Whirlpool Rapids. Hill became stranded in the Whirlpool and had to be rescued by the City of Niagara Falls Fire Department.

Major Hill caused quite a controversy the next day when he climbed back into his barrel and continued his journey through the Lower Rapid (Devils Hole Rapids) to Queenston. This portion of Hill's journey was successful.

On August 6th 1950, Major Lloyd Hill navigated the Whirlpool Rapids in a barrel and circled the Whirlpool twice before floating to the calm waters near shore. Major Hill's barrel was towed to entrance to the Lower Great Gorge before being released to continue his journey to Queenston.

Hill's journey took two hours and 45 minutes, beating his brothers previous record of five hours.

On July 31st 1954, Major Lloyd Hill made his third successful trip through the Whirlpool Rapids in a barrel. When Hill arrived at the Whirlpool, he came ashore at Colts Point terminus of the Spanish Aero Car. Here Ontario Provincial Police were waiting to greet Hill. Major Hill was taken from the scene by the police. Hill was not charged but the police had interrupted Hill's plan to continue to Queenston.

On July 30th 1956, Major Lloyd Hill again rode through the Whirlpool Rapids in his barrel. Hill was stranded in the Whirlpool for three hours before floating close enough to shore. Hill jumped out of the barrel and swam to shore dragging the barrel behind him. The barrel by this time had been partially filled with seventy-nine gallons of water.

In a subsequent parachute accident, Major Hill severely injured one of his legs that was later amputated.

Major Hill was murdered in 1974 in the City of Niagara Falls, Ontario.

 

 

 

 

 

TED MERCIER
JOSEPH HAWRYLUK
 SCOTT GRAHAM

1954

(Survived)

 

On August 18th 1954, teenagers, Ted Mercier, Joseph Hawryluk and  Scott Graham swam across the Niagara River from the Canadian shore near Seneca Street to the American shore approximately 400 yards downstream. The river current had carried the youths this lengthy distance from their starting point. The boys were not charged by the police for their accidental prank.

 

 

 

 

 

CLAUS R. KIRKOFF

1957

(Survived)

 

On October 1st 1957, Claus R. Kirkoff, a former German swimming instructor successfully swam through the Lower Rapids (Devils Hole Rapids) in an attempt to gain illegal entry into the United States of American from which he had been previously deported.

Kirkoff had earlier tried to cross into the USA on the mistaken belief that the Spanish Aero Car would carry him across the border. He did not know that the Spanish Aero Car crosses the width of the Whirlpool from Canadian terminus to Canadian terminus.

 

 

 

 

 

ROGER WOODWARD

1960

(Survived)

 

 

Special Note

Roger Woodward was a victim of a tragic set of circumstances that resulted in the death of Mr. James Honeycutt. Roger Woodward and his older sister Deanne narrowly escaped with their lives.

Roger Woodward was not a daredevil or a stunt man. The fact that he was swept over the Horseshoe Falls was not his choice by design or otherwise.

The story of this tragic accident is listed under this section not because Roger Woodward was a daredevil but rather his survival was nothing less than a miracle.

 

 

Woodward being rescued

A historic picture of Roger Woodward being rescued
by the crew of the Maid of the Mist

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

On July 9th 1960, a seven year old boy named Roger Woodward became the first person to survive a plunge over the Falls without a barrel.

Woodward and his 17 year old sister Deanne, both of Niagara Falls, New York set out that day on a harmless boat ride on the upper Niagara River with family friend James Honeycutt. Honeycutt , age 40 years, of Raleigh, North Carolina, was a contractor at the Niagara Parks Commission hydro project. He had often taken the Woodward children out for a boat ride on his fourteen foot long aluminum boat with a seven and a half horsepower outboard motor. Mr. & Mrs. Frank Woodward trusted Honeycutt completely.

Honeycutt and the Woodward children began the boat ride about five miles upstream of the Falls where Honeycutt was living in a house trailer at the Lynch Trailer camp along the American shoreline.

Approximately one mile upstream of the Horseshoe Falls, Honeycutt began to turn the boat in the opposite direction when the boat motor malfunctioned and quit running. On examining the engine, Honeycutt discovered that the propeller pin had sheared off. Honeycutt began rowing frantically towards the shore but the current was carrying the boat ever so quickly towards the Falls. Honeycutt ordered the Woodward children to put on their life-preservers. Honeycutt was too busy rowing to have time to put his life-preserver on.

Near the Falls the waves capsized the boat separating Deanne from her brother 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, age 44 years, a truck driver from Voxhall, New Jersey was visiting Terrapin Point on Goat Island when he saw Deanne in the water. Hayes grabbed Deanne by her fingers and called for help. John Quattrochi, age 39 years, a tourist from Pennsgrove, New Jersey came to help Hayes. Both men successfully pulled Deanne from the water.

Roger Woodward was in Honeycutt's arms as they approached the Horseshoe Falls. The raging water pulled them apart as they rode over the crest of the Falls. Roger Woodward was wearing swimming trunks and a pair of running shoes. The shoes were ripped from his feet on his way down the cascade. Woodward was forced into the 180 foot deep water at the base of the Falls but was quickly freed where he floated to the surface.

It was 12:55 p.m., when 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 270 foot long Maid of the Mist II. After eight minutes and three approaches to rescue 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 was battered and drowned.

 

 

 

 

 

NATHAN T. BOYA

aka: WILLIAM A. FITZGERALD

1961

(Survived)

 

On July 15th 1961, Nathan T. Boya, age 30 years, a black man from the Bronx in New York challenged the mighty Falls unannounced and emerged virtually unscathed. Boya claimed the trip was not for fame or fortune but rather for personal reasons.

The craft the Nathan Boya had built was a sphere of steel frame construction six feet in diameter. Covering the steel frame was a six ply rubber cover followed by a sheet metal cover and another ply of rubber. The ball was nicknamed "Plunge-O-Sphere" and weighed 1,200 pounds including Boya's own weight.

Learning from the past, Boya installed an oxygen system capable of providing air for thirty hours. Inside the sphere Boya carried a banner which read " Plunge-O-Sphere, Step from your PIT OF DARKNESS, into the light - Dell". Boya refused to say what the meaning of the banner was.

Boya launched his craft from an undisclosed location upstream of the Falls along the American Shoreline. It appears that the sphere containing Boya was towed into Canadian waters, otherwise the sphere would have gone over the American Falls instead of the Horseshoe Falls.

A week before Boya made his journey he met with Jean Lussier who made his own trip over the Falls July 4th 1928. Lussier advised Boya to insure his safety by taking sufficient oxygen with him. Boya added 13 canisters of oxygen and a re-breather a device which converts carbon dioxide to oxygen.

Boya said he had been in the water a good length of time before reaching the upper rapids. Boya said when he entered the rapids the sphere felt like it dropped fifty feet. The sphere was upside down for several moments before righting itself. Boya's sphere went over the Horseshoe Falls nearer to the American side. Boya said he didn't feel the fall over the Falls except when the sphere bounced off a rock at the bottom causing a large dent to the outer skin of the ball. during the trip Boya opened the hinged door in his craft to view his progress. Boya was pawing at the hatch to pull it down when the Maid of the Mist launch the "Little Sister" came along side of the sphere and a police officer arrested Boya for his journey without the permission of the Niagara Parks Commission.

Boya was subsequently fined $100 plus $13 court costs in Niagara Falls Ontario Provincial Court.

Nathan Boya remained a mystery man. He refused to provide any information about his occupation other than to say he was self employed. Several news reports said that Boya was really William A. Fitzgerald, a maintenance man at IBM. Headquarters in New York, New York. Boya denied these reports however a check of the address he had given in the Bronx revealed no one by the name of Boya lived there. When asked about his feat, Boya said he did not consider it to be a daredevil stunt but that it was just something he had to do.

Nathan Boya was the seventh person to conquer the Falls and live. He returned to Niagara Falls only once, on July 15th 1962, the first anniversary date of his plunge.

Nathan Boya became a doctor after earning a doctorate in sociology and post doctorate medical behaviour. He became a Fellow of Faculty at a medical school in New York City.

Joseph M. Caligiuri, Sr., and his brother Henry Caligiuri were partners and owners in a company known as Hudson Fixtures. It was located on 138th Street n the Bronx, New York. Henry Caligiuri was the architect and Joseph was the salesman for the business.

They were approached by daredevil Nathan Boya and asked to design and build a steel spherical shaped contraption that Boya used in his journey over Niagara Falls.  

Nathan Boya contracted Hudson Fixtures to build a ball to go over Niagara Falls because he wanted to impress his girlfriend. 

Together, Joseph and Henry Caligiuri built the ball that went over the falls with Nathan Boya. 

Joseph was concerned that if the ball hit a rock where the entrance hatch was located, Boya might not live to tell the story. As a result of his concern Joseph added rubber air-filled inner tubes inside the contraption to float the ball. In an emergency the air from the inner tubes would allow Boya extra oxygen to breathe to give him more time until he could be rescued. Fortunately, the dent in the ball was not on the hatch. 

Following the successful feat of Nathan Boya, Mr. Joseph Caligiuri Sr. was invited to appear on the television show "What's My Line”. Unfortunately Joseph was the last person scheduled to appear on the show, they ran out of time before he could appear. The show producers asked Mr. Caligiuri to return to the show but he felt he had better things to do.  

The design of the ball was later published in the Popular Mechanics Magazine. 

Courtesy of Jeanne M. Caligiuri (daughter of Joseph Caligiuri Sr.)

 

 

 

 

 

RAYMOND WEAVER

1961

(Survived)

 

Raymond Weaver, a 39 year old man from Niagara Falls, New York challenged the Great Gorge Rapids and the Whirlpool during the summer of 1961.

Weaver had built a boat weighing eight hundred pounds and containing six hundred pounds of ballast. It was fourteen and a half long and of steel construction. The boat was constructed of twelve and sixteen gauge steel plate and the top entirely covered as well. A three and a half horsepower outboard motor propelled the boat.

At 5:30 a.m. on July 28th 1961, Weaver began his journey near the Maid of the Mist dock. Weaver was strapped inside the boat and was wearing a safety helmet. The boat successfully navigated the Great Gorge Rapids. As it entered the Whirlpool, the boat motor had become water logged and quit functioning. The vortex of the Whirlpool caught the boat and held it in a vice grip for the following four hours before changing currents allowed its release. Weaver completed his journey to the Queenston dock. The total trip took seven hours to complete.

By now, technology and vessel construction had improved significantly lowering the risk levels of the stunt participants. Interest by the citizens and the media was beginning to wane.

 

 

 

 

 

KARL HEINZ KOCH

1964

(Survived)

 

During the summer of 1964, Karl Heinz Koch, a swimming instructor from Germany was arrested by police for swimming in the Niagara River approximately 200 yards downstream (north) of the American Falls.

At the time of his arrest, Koch said "I was hot and I didn't see any sign saying no swimming, so I took a little dip".

 

 

 

 

 

BRUCE CURTIS
RONALD HESS

1969

(Survived)

 

On July 14th 1969, Bruce Curtis and his friend Ronald Hess of La Salle, New York survived a ride through the Lower Rapids (Devils Hole Rapids) riding on a five and a half (5½) foot diameter tractor inner tube. They said they did it because they thought it looked like fun. Both boys regularly went swimming at Devils Hole.

 

 

 

 

 

JOHN KAZIAN

1971

(Survived)

 

On September 2nd 1971, John Kazian stood on the wing of a single engine stunt plane piloted over Niagara Falls by Joe Hughes. During this aerial exhibition, Kazian performed several other tricks as well.

 

 

 

 

 

NIAGARA
WHITE WATER RAFT COMPANY

1972

(commercial business)

On May 23rd 1972, a fledgling commercial enterprise named the Niagara White Water Raft Company made its first successful trip through the Whirlpool Rapids in a white water raft.

On May 25th 1972, a second successful trip was made through the Whirlpool Rapids in a similar raft. Passengers for this trip were recruited from local media personnel and family members and friends of the Niagara White Water Raft Company.

The rapids raft rides were discontinued on August 14th 1972 following a number of accidents where passengers were thrown into the turbulent water of the Whirlpool Rapids.

On August 20th 1972, the Niagara White Water raft Company launched a shorter and much safer commercial raft ride. This new ride took passengers from Lewiston, New York upriver to an area of the Lower Rapids (Devils Hole Rapids below the Niagara Glen. This ride was successful but only continued until September 1st 1972. 

 

 

 

 

 

HENRI JULIEN RECHATIN

1974,1975

(Survived)

 

Rechatin performs over the Whirlpool

Henri Rechatin crossing the Whirlpool along with his wife, Janyck and
motorcycle driver Frank Lucas

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

Henri Julien Rechatin was born in France in 1932. He was the only son of his famous acrobatic parents, the Pierrodys. The French speaking Rechatin was taught by his father to juggle and tumble. Rechatin graduated to low wire balancing acts in circuses throughout Europe.

In 1966, at the age of 34 years, Henri Rechatin set a world endurance record on high wire balancing. For two hundred thirteen hours and fifteen minutes, Rechatin balanced himself on a wire cable one thousand one hundred feet above the ground on a three thousand nine hundred foot cable stretched across the Loire River Valley in France.

On January 14th 1967, Europe's top tight rope artist came to Niagara Falls along with his wife Janyck. Henri Rechatin was 35 years old, weighed one hundred and fifty-eight pounds and was five feet seven inched in height.

In order to bring back the fire of desire and thrill to the citizens and media of Niagara to level only experienced in yesteryear, Rechatin made several proposals to conduct high wire acts across the Niagara River at various points along the gorge throughout the entire year. The year 1967 was the Centennial Birthday of Canada and special celebrations were being planned in cities and towns all across the Nation. Rechatin initially proposed to perform a high wire act on a wire of less than one inch in diameter across the one thousand eight hundred foot width of the Whirlpool approximately two hundred feet above the churning waters below. Rechatin further proposed that the first performance could take place on May 7th 1967. His wife Janyck would assist him.

Henri Rechatin was a very experienced high wire performer and had the credentials to back up his bravado. Rechatin quite often drew similarities between the Great Blondin and himself. Rechatin vowed to do trick that Blondin had performed and more.

On February 11th 1967, the Niagara Parks Commission refused to allow the proposal of Henri Rechatin to take place. Rechatin and his wife returned to their home in St. Etienne, France.

On May 26th 1975, Henri Rechatin and his wife returned to Niagara Falls. This time he proposed to be the first person to remove a straight jacket while hanging upside down form a helicopter while hovering over the Falls. When authorities threatened Rechatin with charges if he proceeded, it was sufficient for Rechatin to abandon that idea.

Shortly after 9:00 a.m. on June 3rd 1975, Henri Rechatin appeared at the top of the Skylon Tower observation deck level five hundred and twenty feet above the ground. Working from a small eight foot by three foot wooden platform on the outer edge of the deck, Rechatin began a chair balancing act only inches from instant death. Using two oak chairs, Rechatin balanced the bottom chair on the wooden platform nearest the outer edge. Rechatin placed the second chair on top of the first and balanced it so that only the rear legs of this chair were touching the seat of the first chair. Rechatin climbed sat onto the second chair and remained balanced without using his feet or arms for support. Despite low clouds and mist from the Falls, this act only lasted thirty seconds but Rechatin performed this same feat three times in order to facilitate the media.

The very next day on June 4th 1975, at 4:30 a.m., Henri Rachatin, his wife Janyck and motorcycle driver Frank Lucas of Toulouse, France assembled at the Southern terminal of the Spanish Aero car above the Whirlpool. At 6:30 a.m., without permission and without fanfare, the trio began crossing the Whirlpool on the existing cable that supported the Spanish Aero car. Gradually creeping out onto the greasy cable, Lucas began to drive his specially modified motorcycle. The cycle had a metal frame constructed above it so that Rechatin could stand above it and a metal frame below the cycle so that Janyck could hang upside down by one of her feet. This crossing had been well planned in advance. In the middle of the crossing the wind began blowing and the rear wheel on the motorcycle began slipping. Frank Lucas had no previous experience. He did however win the French National Moto-Cross Championships in 1966, 1967, and 1968. When the trio had come within fifteen feet of the Northern terminal (where the Spanish Aero Car is kept when closed) Rechatin took a balance pole from the upper frame and began wire walking the rest of the way to the shore. Rechatin then attached a rope to the motorcycle and pulled it as close to the Aero Car as possible. Rechatin helped his wife and Lucas into the Aero Car where they remained until the ride operator arrived for work at 7:30 a.m. Upon the arrival of the operator the Spanish Aero Car containing the trio were returned to the Southern terminal where Police by now were waiting. Rechatin was arrested for performing a dangerous act however formal charged against him were not proceeded with.

In May of 1976, Henri Rechatin came back to Niagara Falls with his wife and their eight year old daughter Corine. Rechatin had arranged to perform a fifteen day wire walk endurance test on Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls, Ontario beginning on the early morning of May 27th 1976.

Two forty-seven foot high steel towers were constructed between Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum and the Hollywood Wax Museum located fifty-nine feet away. Utilizing a five-eighths of an inch diameter cable, Rechatin would perform four acts per day for the tourists below. Rachatins' only refuge was a wooden three foot by three foot platform nearest the Ripley's Museum. Here he would eat, use for washroom purposes and take twenty minute catnaps. Rachatin's fifteen day ordeal ended on June 7th 1976. During his last performance, Rechatin carried a Niagara Falls Review newspaper reporter named Christina Montgomery age 21 years across the wire on his back.

On June 8th 1976, a Rechatin proposal to wire walk across the Niagara River above the Falls was refused by New York State Parks authorities. A 1995 Rechatin proposal to recreate his 1975 wire walk across the Whirlpool on the cables of the Spanish Aero Car was refused by the Niagara Parks Commission. In 2007, Henri Julien Rechatin is now 75 years of age.

On Friday December 27th 2013, Rechatin died at the age of 82 years in Saint-Etienne, France.

 

Christine Montgomery describes her memories of this event:

I thought when I met the Rechatin's they were lovely, very gracious and civil. And funny, wickedly funny, as much as I could tell with my modest knowledge of French. I don't know what I expected a daredevil to be like, but it wasn't like that. They were a whole family, just a normal family, but dedicated to his craft, his tightrope. That summer, Janyck would appear below the wire he was living on early every morning to send up food and dispose of his toiletries and so on. I remember one morning they were having a fight and he took his sleeping bag, which soaked up dew overnight and got fairly heavy, and dropped it down on her. Just straight down, with a thump, on her head. They were like that, the joked and bickered and you almost forgot they were these circus people. He was a consummate professional though, that's what I remember. He talked a lot about his work, how every time he worked a fair in France, he'd take people up on his back. It was easy to see that for him, it was safe. It was just work. So when he wanted to take someone on his back to show the parks commission that he knew what he was doing, I really wanted to go. One of the TV stations in Buffalo tried to talk him into taking one of their reporters, but they insisted she have a net under her, and Rechatin got in quite a huff about the suggestion. He said no. I said I'd go, no net, no problem. My boss was worried about the liability, so I got off work "early" and went on my own time.
It was pretty scary. I'm deathly afraid of heights, but curiosity overcomes a lot of my fears. In the end, I took a deep breath and zoned out. If you die, you die, I figured. I went up the tower beside his platform, stepped over a big gap onto his own little platform and slid my legs through these straps he had hanging from his shoulders. That's all that held me. He was cracking jokes in French all the way across the wire on the first pass, but he told me I couldn't laugh or I'd wreck his balance -- and if he fell, his wife would kill him if the fall didn't. At the other side there was no place to turn around, just a tinier platform, so he backed up all the way on the second pass. I thought it was hysterically funny; people down below were gasping and making comments about how scared I must be and that's why he was backing up. And then I slid off his back, and we said goodbye. I remember looking him right in the eye, since he was a little guy, about as tall as me, and thinking: Wow. That was so cool, and for you it's all in a day's work.
The only drag was when I came down and the American reporter, who was angry she couldn't go, stuck a mic in my face and said "So, is there anything you won't do for a story?". I was only 20, but I understood the concept of dead air, and I just stood there. Which I thought was better than saying what I was really thinking.
I was sorry later to hear he'd been denied permission to cross over the gorge on his own wire. I know he'd have been fine.  -
Christine Montgomery
 

 

 

 

 

 

EDWARD A. FRIEDLAND

1974

(Survived)

 

On June 28th 1974, Edward Friedland a wannabe stunt man rode a rubber dinghy through the Whirlpool Rapids into the Whirlpool. Once in the Whirlpool, Friedland became stranded in the twirling boat. A sightseeing helicopter made a dramatic flight into the Whirlpool Gorge to rescue Friedland.

Friedland had planned this stunt in order to draw attention to himself so that he might get a job as a stuntman with a movie production company which happened to be making a movie in the Niagara area.

 

 

 

 

 

JIM SARTEN

1975

(Survived)

 

Jim Sarten was a professional stuntman working for Playboy Productions during the filming of the television movie "The Great Niagara". As part of the production, the film company made a raft made from a few planks and empty oil drums with the intention of floating it through the Whirlpool Rapids. Permission had been received from both Governments with the understanding that a dummy would be sent on the raft rather than a human.

The raft was designed by Wes Hill and Jim Sarten. Wes Hill was in charge of all the water safety and river bank safety on the set.

On July 4th 1975, as this stunt began, Jim Sarten took the place of the dummy and rode the raft through the Whirlpool Rapids to the Whirlpool.

Sarten was outfitted with a dive suit and air tank under his costume in order to save his body from being bashed on the rocks and the air tank had a small hose coming up thru his costume to near his mouth so that he could grab it and use it if necessary.

Sarten was rescued by Wes Hill from the Whirlpool nearly dead. He had to be revived and rushed to hospital.

Playboy Productions was fined $75 for allowing a stunt to be performed contrary to the Niagara Parks Act.

 

 

 

 

 

NIAGARA GORGE RIVER TRIPS INCORPORATED

1975

(3 Died)

 

raftaccident1975.gif (15877 bytes)

Zodiac raft following accident

In 1975, Niagara Gorge River Trips Inc. began operation of a white water rafting business through the Whirlpool Rapids. The raft utilized was a prototype rubber raft made by the Zodiac Company of France.

On August 29th 1975, during the eleventh trial run through the Whirlpool Rapids, with 29 passengers aboard and a crew of four, the rubber raft capsized in the Whirlpool Rapids. All the occupants of the raft were thrown into the rapids. Some of the occupants were trapped under the overturned raft.

Three of the passengers died of drowning. Miraculously, 30 people survived after a very heroic rescue by members of the various emergency services in both countries.

 

 

 

 

 

MR. X

aka: James Randi

1975

(Survived)

 

randiescape.gif (19410 bytes)

James Randi dangling over the Horseshoe Falls

On February 7th 1975, an unidentified man (Mr. X) working for a Toronto film company was dangled over the precipice of the Horseshoe Falls at the Table Rock by a crane for five minutes while strapped into a strait jacket.

This stunt was performed for a television program and permission to conduct this stunt was received from the Niagara Parks Commission.   

 

 

 

 

 

KENNETH W. LAGERGREN

1977

(Survived)

 

On October 30th 1977, Kenneth Lagergren and a friend known only as Charles rode together in a kayak through the Whirlpool Rapids. Both survived the journey. Lagergren was arrested by the Niagara Parks Police while his friend escaped apprehension.

Lagergren would challenge the Whirlpool Rapids again in 1981 in a kayak during the filming of a television segment for the ABC - TV network program "The American Sportsman". (see below)

 

 

 

 

 

KENNETH W. LAGERGREN
CHRIS SPELIUS
DON WHEEDON
CARRIE ASHTON

1981

(Survived)

 

On October 14th 1981, professionals, Kenneth Lagergren, Chris Spelius, Don Wheedon and Carrie Ashton rode through the Whirlpool Rapids in kayaks in conjunction with the ABC - TV program "The American Sportsman". All survived unharmed despite that one kayak tipped over for twenty seconds before being righted.

The Niagara Parks Commission permitted this exhibition because it was considered a sport.

 

 

 

 

 

KAREL SOUCEK

1977,1984

(Survived)

 

On June 11th 1977, Karel Soucek made a successful trip through the Whirlpool Rapids in a barrel. In the Whirlpool, Soucek became stranded for three hours. Upon his rescue, Soucek was arrested by Niagara Parks police and charged with performing a stunt without a license.

On July 2nd 1984, Karel Soucek, age 37 years, of Hamilton, Ontario challenged the mighty Horseshoe Falls in a homemade barrel. Soucek would become the first person to attempt the dangerous journey over the Falls in twenty-three years.

Soucek was born in Czechoslovakia on April 19th 1947. Soucek advertised himself as the "Last of the Niagara Daredevils".

Soucek began planning well in advance and was talking publicly about his intentions for at least a year in advance.

On July 22nd 1976, Soucek attempted to cross the Whirlpool on a moped by using the cables of the Spanish Aero Car. This attempt failed after he had traveled twenty (20) feet (6m) when his moped hit a bolt and was derailed. A safety harness worn by Soucek saved his life by preventing him falling into the turbulent waters of the Whirlpool below.

Soucek had built a specially designed barrel of lightweight metal and plastic with enough ballast in one end to ensure a plunge feet first. The barrel was equipped with a two-way radio. Soucek spent fifteen thousand dollars to prepare for his journey. Soucek had previously rode an all steel barrel through the Great Gorge Rapids to the Whirlpool on two occasions. Soucek's dream was to go over the falls and become the fifth person to do so and live.

At around 9:30 a.m. on July 2nd 1984, four assistants pushed the red colored barrel with Karel Soucek inside from the back of a truck several hundred yards upstream of the Horseshoe Falls along the Canadian shore. The barrel was launched without interruption. The barrel with the name "Karel Soucek" written on its side in large letters moved quickly down river and over the Horseshoe Falls at 75 miles per hour. The ballast worked perfectly for the 3.2 second trip over the Falls. Soucek later described it as similar to a skydiver's free fall. When the barrel hit the water below, it rebounded causing the wristwatch on Soucek's left arm to strike his forehead causing numerous facial cuts and bruises. For forty-five minutes the barrel bounced off the rocks at the base of the Falls . Soucek who had lots of oxygen just relaxed and awaited release by the changing water currents. When the barrel was released it was quickly recovered and brought to shore.

Soucek walked away from the barrel and was lifted to the surface and taken to the Greater Niagara General Hospital in Niagara Falls, Ontario for minor cuts and bruises. Soucek was charged by the police and his barrel confiscated. It was a dream come true for Soucek and he became the eight person to conquer the Falls.

On July 11th 1984, Karel Soucek was fined $500 in Niagara Falls Ontario provincial Court for his barrel stunt.  

On January 19th 1985, Karel Soucek was killed during a free fall stunt at the Houston Astrodome in front of forty-five thousand spectators. A barrel measuring approximately six (6) feet long with Soucek on board was lifted by a crane to the roof of the Astro Dome. When released the barrel was to fall into a large tank filled with water. The tank was ten (10) feet in diameter so the stunt was extremely difficult . When the barrel was released, a piece of wood nailed to the bottom of the barrel struck the side as it entered the tank. Foam pads which were supposed to have been secured to the base of the water tank had floated to the surface before the drop. As the barrel dropped the water and foam pads failed to cushion Soucek's decent. The force of the sudden impact resulted in Soucek sustaining massive internal injuries which resulted in his death.

Karel Soucek is buried at Drummond Hill Cemetery in Niagara Falls, Ontario. 

 

 

 

 

 

STEVEN TROTTER

1985

(Survived)

 

STEVEN TROTTER
LORI MARTIN

 1995

(Survived)

 

On November 12th 1984, Steven Trotter made his first attempt to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. It was an unsuccessful attempt when his barrel became hung up on rocks upriver of the Falls. Trotter was in a barrel called "the Rig" which cost Trotter $6,200 to build. Trotter was fined $500 in Niagara Falls Ontario Provincial Court.  

During the summer of 1985, a 22 year old part time bartender from Barrington, Rhode Island came to Niagara to conquer the Falls. Steven Trotter brought with him a contraption made of two plastic pickle barrels surrounded by large rubber inner tubes and covered by a tarpaulin.

At 8:30 a.m. on August 18th 1985, Trotter began his solo journey from a location just upstream from the Horseshoe Falls. A short time later, Trotter went over the crest of the Falls falling to the water below. Steven Trotter had survived the plunge uninjured. He became the youngest person to ever survive this stunt. Trotter had gained a short lived notoriety and appeared on several national television talk shows before disappearing from the public eye.

Steven Trotter returned to Niagara Falls in 1995, the tenth anniversary of his initial conquest. At the age of 32 years, Trotter of Fort Lauderdale, Florida returned to Niagara falls to challenge the Falls for a second time. On this occasion he brought his girlfriend Lori Martin, age 29 years of Atlanta, Georgia. They would go over the Falls together this time.

Trotter brought with him a newly constructed barrel. The barrel was twelve feet long and was made from two pieces of water heater tanks welded together and coated by kevlar. The barrel contained four oxygen tanks capable of providing air for one hour and twenty minutes. The barrel weighed nine hundred pounds and cost approximately nineteen thousand dollars.

At 9:30 a.m. on June 18th 1995, the barrel containing Trotter and Martin was launched approximately one hundred yards above the brink of the Horseshoe Falls along the shore of the Canadian side. The barrel went over the Falls but became caught in the rocks below. Emergency Services personnel were required to risk their own lives by climbing over the guard rail in one of the two observation tunnels under the Table Rock Pavilion to secure the barrel and pull Trotter and Martin to safety.

Both were taken to the Greater Niagara General Hospital for treatment of minor bruises. Trotter and Martin were subsequently arrested for their illegal stunt. The barrel remained in the water for nine days until it could be removed by use of a crane. After paying the costs incurred in the retrieval of the barrel, Steven Trotter's had the barrel returned to him. Steven Trotter and Lori Martin became the second couple to journey over the Falls together in a barrel and live to talk about it.

 

 

 

 

 

PHILLIPE PETIT

1986

 

Phillipe Petitt was born in France in 1949.

On August 12th 1974, Petitt came to Niagara Falls with a proposal to challenge the Niagara River. Petitt planned a high wire walk between Prospect Point Park in Niagara Falls, New York and the Table Rock at the brink of the Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

On August 19th 1974, the Niagara Parks Commission refused Petitt's proposal.

On September 18th 1974, Petitt left Niagara to join the Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Baily Circus. One of the most famous high wire walks performed by Petitt was between the World Trade Towers in New York City at one thousand three hundred and fifty feet above ground level.

On October 3rd 1986, Phillipe Petitt returned to Niagara Falls. Petitt was employed by the film crew shooting the Imax movie entitled "Niagara Miracle, Myths and Magic" Petitt was paid to re-enact the feats of Blondin and was required to walk on a fifty foot long high wire one hundred and seventy feet above the Canadian shore.

 

 

 

 

 

JOHN DAVID MUNDAY

1985,1993

(Survived)

 

Dave Munday going over the Horseshoe Falls

Dave Munday going over the Horseshoe Falls in a converted diving bell on September 26th 1993

courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library 

 

John David Munday was born in 1937. He lives in Caistor Center, a rural community in the Township of West Lincoln, Ontario. Munday is a diesel mechanic by trade. He owns and operates a diesel company in nearby Hamilton, Ontario. Munday is the divorced father of two adult daughters.

Dave Munday was a skydiving instructor with 1,400 jumps under his belt. In addition Munday is an accomplished helicopter and fixed wing aircraft pilot.

Dave Munday had a twenty year obsession to go over the Falls in a barrel.

During the summer of 1985, David Munday came to Niagara Falls to challenge the raw power of the Niagara River.

On July 28th 1985 at approximately 1:00 p.m., a truck carrying Munday's barrel pulled up to a Canadian shoreline site approximately two and a half miles upstream of the Falls. At this location a silver and red aluminium and unbreakable plastic barrel measuring two meters wide by one meter long with the words " To Challenge Niagara July 1985" inscribed on the side was launched with Munday inside. Munday had the dream of becoming the ninth person to go over the Falls. The last person to go over the Falls was Karl Soucek.

Munday's barrel weighed nine hundred pounds and cost sixteen thousand dollars to build. Munday had been planning this project for two years. Unfortunately, this launch was witnessed by a Police Officer. As Munday rode his barrel towards the brink of the Falls. Ontario Hydro were alerted and the water level reduced by controlling the water at the Hydro Control Dam. The water level dropped five feet in three minutes, trapping Munday and his barrel in the Hydro power pool still a long distance from the Horseshoe Falls. Munday had been foiled but only for a short time.

Dave Munday would become the most persistent of all the daredevils. On October 5th 1985, at approximately 9:00 a.m., Munday returned to Niagara Falls. This time Munday's barrel with Munday inside was unloaded from the back of a truck and launched into the water within one hundred and fifty yards of the brink of the Horseshoe Falls, The barrel went over the Horseshoe Falls in seconds. At the base the barrel became trapped in an eddy for ninety minutes before Munday was rescued by river man, Ken Sloggett.

Dave Munday became the ninth person to survive the trip over the Falls. Munday received only minor abrasions. Munday had video taped his own fall using a video camera shot through a porthole.

Munday was fined $500 for stunting in the Niagara Parks and $1000 for breach of probation in Niagara Falls Ontario Provincial Court.

On September 26th 1987 at 2:49 a.m., Police on patrol discovered a six foot long barrel with the name of "Dave Munday" inscribed on the side on top of the Niagara Gorge just South of the Whirlpool Bridge opposite Queen Street. The barrel was seized by Police ending Munday's attempt to challenge the Great Gorge Rapids and the Whirlpool.

On October 11th 1987, Dave Munday did successfully journey through the Great Gorge Rapids and the Whirlpool in the same barrel. Two hours after Munday's trip, Nolan Whitsell age 35 of Atlanta Georgia successfully guided an open 4.2 meter plastic canoe through the Great Gorge Rapids and the Whirlpool.

On November 12th 1987, Munday was fined $500 and given two years probation in Niagara Falls Ontario Provincial Court.

On July 16 1990 at 5:00 a.m., Dave Munday again tried to ride a barrel over the Horseshoe Falls in a homemade steel barrel. The barrel was built from one quarter inch thick steel pipe covered by 20 cm. of thick foam. The barrel cost one thousand dollars and had no provision for oxygen. Again because of the low morning water levels, Munday's barrel was caught up on the rocks at the brink of the Horseshoe Falls. Interestingly, Munday could not swim and he hated the water. To him, suffocation was the most terrifying way to die.

On September 26th 1993 at 8:35 a.m., Dave Munday survived his second successful trip over the Horseshoe Falls. Munday was riding in a six hundred and sixty pound converted diving bell that he had purchased from the Canadian Coast Guard. It took one year to refit. The vehicle was painted with a red maple leaf motif. The diving bell also contained two hundred pounds of ballast. During his journey, Munday was knocked unconscious, had sustained minor bruises and cuts. The vehicle was recovered at the base of the Falls by the little Maid of the Mist.

 

August 2007 - Dave Munday, arguably the most famous daredevil of Niagara Falls during the past quarter century is at home in Cape Breton recovering after recently suffering from a stroke. At the age of 70, Munday's recovery is steady and slow. Dave Munday became famous for becoming the first male daredevil to conquer the Horseshoe Falls in a barrel twice. In all, he made four attempts.

Reporter, Peter Duffy of the Herald Newspaper recently interviewed Munday. The news article was published on September 3rd 2007. The following is a segment of Peter Duffy's report:


"Dave tells me his love affair with the Horseshoe Falls all began when he was growing up on a farm in south western Ontario. Each Sunday, his dad would take the family on outings, including visits to see the world-famous natural attraction.
As a lad, he always enjoyed the trips but it wasn’t until a visit to the annual Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto that his urge to actually go over the falls began. One of the attractions at that year’s fair was Major Lloyd Hill, a man who’d made several attempts to shoot the falls and who’d become something of a celebrity. 
 

The young boy listened spellbound to the stories and was hooked.
Fast-forward now to 1985. Dave is a mechanic in a diesel machine shop and suddenly he has access to the equipment he needs to build a barrel and is surrounded by men with the skills to assist him.  "We had a lot of fun," he recalls. "All those guys and me — lots of camaraderie."  Working together, they built a silver ball of steel and foam, sparsely equipped with a seat, a window and a seatbelt.
 

In late July, at the age of 48, the father of two made his first attempt but the authorities were too quick for him. Ontario Hydro spotted him and lowered the water level in the Niagara River, stranding him before he could reach the lip of the monstrous falls.
 

Two months later, Dave and his crew came back and this time he was successful. Before anyone could stop him, over he went, a speck in the maelstrom of 2,272,000 litres of water that hurtle over the Horseshoe Falls each second. Strapped into his steel shell, he plummeted the equivalent of 18 storeys in a heart-stopping 3.5 seconds. "I was shook up," he says with great understatement. Amazingly, his only injury was a seriously stiff neck due to torn ligaments. His recovery took 18 months. "I’m not crazy," he assures me.
"Can you even swim?" I ask. He chuckles. "Can’t swim a stroke!" he replies. "I was afraid of drowning."
 

I turn to the woman who’s been sitting quietly all this time, listening to our interview. She’s Dave’s sister, Sylvia Bingham, who’s down from Ontario to care for him as he recovers from the stroke. "You must’ve all thought he was crazy," I exclaim. Not at all, she retorts. "We thought it was fun and exciting. That’s what he wanted to do, so let him do it!" And do it he did, again and again, to become the most persistent falls-shooter in history.
 

In 1987, Dave and his steel cylinder returned to Niagara Falls and shot the lower rapids and terrifying whirlpool. In 1990, he made another bid for the actual falls themselves, only to become snagged in rocks before the final plunge.
 

Three years later, the dogged adventurer reappeared and made his second successful nosedive over the edge. This time his luck almost ran out. Inadvertently, he closed the valve allowing oxygen into his capsule, causing him to pass out. When the crew of the tourist vessel, Maid of the Mist, fished him out, he was still unconscious. Finally, with his second trip over the falls, Dave’s appetite was finally sated, which was just as well. By then, he’d had to shell out $30,000 in fines and lawyers fees, not to mention all the thousands more for barrels."
 

Today, Dave Munday lives quietly in a picturesque fishing village on Cape Breton’s eastern shore.
 

 

 

 

 

 

PETER DeBERNARDI
JEFFREY PETKOVICH

1989

(Survived)

 

In September of 1989, Peter DeBernardi and Jeffrey Petkovich came to the Falls to challenge the Niagara River. DeBernardi was a 42 year old man form Niagara Falls, Ontario. He was the father of a young daughter and was an ex stock car driver. DeBernardi was unemployed but took up the cause of helping drug addicts Petkovich was a 24 year old student of the University of Ottawa in Ottawa, Ontario. DeBernardi and Petkovich met only eight weeks prior.

DeBernardi had been planning to ride a barrel over the Falls with another friend however at the last minute, DiBernardi's friend decided not to go. As a result DeBernardi met Petkovich.

DeBernardi had built a one thousand five hundred dollar barrel. It was constructed of three sixteenth of an inch thick steel plate, twelve feet long and four and a half feet in diameter. The barrel weighed one thousand five hundred pounds and had a keel for direction. In addition, the barrel had a two way radio system, ninety minutes of oxygen supply with a ballast control and a double hatch assembly. It had double Plexiglas widows so that he and Petkovich could see outside.

On September 28th 1989 at 5:30 p.m., DeBernardi and Petkovich both resting head to head inside the barrel began their journey. The barrel was launched two hundred feet from the brink of the Horseshoe Falls. Twenty-five seconds later, the bright yellow barrel with the inscription "Don't Put Yourself On The Edge - Drugs Kill" went over the brink of the Falls and fell to the water below. When recovered by the Maid of the Mist dock both DeBernardi and Petkovich were uninjured. Petkovich had been drinking and got out of the barrel wearing only a neck tie and a pair of cowboy boots.

DeBernardi and Petkovich became the first two persons in a barrel to go over the Falls and the eleventh and twelfth persons to take the plunge.

On August 14th 1990, a second attempt to go over the Falls together was thwarted by New York State Parks Police in Niagara Falls, New York when a patrolling Officer stopped a truck carrying DeBernardi's ten foot diameter yellow Styrofoam ball contraption that was destined to go over the American Falls.

 

 

 

 

 

JESSIE W. SHARP

1990

(Died)

 

Jessie W. Sharp was a 28 year old bachelor from Ocoee, Tennessee when he came to Niagara Falls to challenge the Niagara River. Sharp was an unemployed at the time and was an experienced kayaker.

On June 5th 1990, Sharp attempted to ride over the Horseshoe Falls in a twelve foot long, thirty-six pound polyethylene kayak. Jessie Sharp had planned this trip for three years. He brought with him a crew of three persons to video tape his journey into the darkness of the river. Sharp's motive for trying this stunt was to further his career in stunting. Jessie Sharp did not wear any protective helmet so it would not cover his face for the video. He also did not wear a life-preserver because he thought it would hamper his escape if he was caught under the Falls. After going over the Falls, Sharp planned on kayaking through the Great Gorge Rapids through the Whirlpool to the docks at Queenston. Here he had made supper reservations at the Queenston Park Restaurant.

Jessie Sharp was filmed going over the Falls in his Kayak. Sharp was never seen again nor his body ever been recovered. Another stunt of suicidal proportions.

 

 

 

 

 

ROBERT OVERACKER

1995

(Died)

 

Robert Overacker

Robert Overacker going over the Horseshoe Falls to his death

 

Robert Overacker, a 39 year old man from Camarillo, California challenged the Niagara River and the mighty Horseshoe Falls at 12:35 p.m. on October 1st 1995. Riding on a single jet ski, Overacker launched himself into the Niagara River upstream of the Falls from the area of the Canadian Niagara Power Plant . Robert Overacker rode his jet ski directly at the brink of the Horseshoe Falls.

At the brink of the Falls, Overacker  ignited a rocket propelled parachute that was strapped to his back. His plan was that the rocket would quickly deploy the parachute allowing him to safely land in to river below the Horseshoe Falls where he could be rescued. Overacker did ignite the rocket which deployed the parachute as planned. Unfortunately as the parachute deployed it fell away from Overacker to the ground below. Unknown to Overacker the parachute was not tethered to his body. The parachute was not packed by Overacker prior to the stunt and he was unaware of this fatal error. His step-brother and a friend witnessed this unfolding tragedy as Overacker fell to his death to the water below the Falls.

Robert Overacker was married and had no children. Overacker became the fifteenth person since 1901 to challenge the Falls. Robert Overacker challenged the Niagara River and paid with his life. His body was recovered by staff at the Maid of the Mist.

 

 

 

 

 

KIRK JONES

2003

(Survived)

 

Kirk Jones

 

On Monday October 20th 2003 at 12:45 p.m., Kirk Raymond Jones became the first human in recorded history to go over the Horseshoe Falls unaided and survive virtually unscathed. The most remarkable aspect was that he did so without any safety and/or flotation device.

The 40 year old, single and unemployed man from Canton Michigan (south of Detroit) came to the City of Niagara Falls on Saturday October 18th along with a his friend Bob Krueger of Garden City, Michigan. Both spend several nights at a local motel on Lundy's Lane before his actual stunt. In preparation , Jones had bought a used video camera. His plan was to have Krueger video record Jones' feat  for prosperity, historical and perhaps for financial reasons. Unfortunately Krueger didn't learn to properly operate the video camera before the event and did not capture any part of it on videotape.

Kirk Jones carried through with his plan of jumping into to upper Niagara River approximately 20 feet from the brink of the Horseshoe Falls at the Table Rock of the Niagara Parks Commission property along the Canadian shore. Jones, wearing only the clothes on his back, was quickly swept over the Falls (170 feet) to the plunge pool basin below.

Seconds later Kirk Jones emerged from the turbulent waters below and was able to pull himself to safety onto a rock a short distance away from the cataracts. Here he remained stranded until the arrival of emergency service personnel who rescued him from his precarious perch and transported him to the top of the gorge. Jones was transported to the Greater Niagara General Hospital suffering only minor rib injuries.

Kirk Jones was admitted to the psychiatric unit on an involuntary basis pending an assessment. Jones stated that his stunt wasn't a stunt at all but a failed attempt at suicide. Others close to Jones including family members contradict this view and have indicated that Kirk Jones had planned to go over the Falls as a stunt for the fame and fortune including gainful employment which he believed would follow.

The planning process was described as very unsophisticated and unscientific.

Whatever the motive, Kirk Raymond Jones has etched his name forever in the annals of Niagara Falls daredevil history.

Jones was subsequently arrested upon his release from hospital and charged with Mischief and Performing a Stunt with the Niagara Parks.

On December 18th 2003, Jones returned to court. He plead guilty to both charged and was fined $3,000 and in addition was ordered to reimburse the Niagara Parks - Journey Behind the Falls attraction $1,408 for the money they lost during the 45 minutes the attraction had closed to facilitate Jones rescue.

Jones has since been employed by the Toby Tyler Circus of Texas to perform as yet undefined stunts.

 

Kirk Jones - Interview with a Daredevil

 

 

 

 

 

MR. Y

2009

(Survived - Failed Suicide Attempt)

 

A 30 year old man from London, Ontario jumped into Niagara Falls on Wednesday March 11th 2009 and survived the 170 foot (57m) plunge, then resisted rescue attempts before he eventually was pulled from the icy water to safety, police said.

The man, believed to be in his late 30s, was semiconscious when he was taken to a hospital. He lapsed into unconsciousness and was listed in critical condition.

Niagara Parks Police Chief Doug Kane said the man "voluntarily entered into the water and refused medical assistance at the bottom."

He said the man was suffering from hypothermia and a head injury. Police were unable to get any information from the man because of the effects of the near-freezing water.

A witness called police at 2:11 p.m. and told them a man had climbed over a retaining wall and jumped into the rapids above the Horseshoe Falls. A short time later, the man was seen near the base of the falls.

Specially trained falls rescue crews tried to assist the man, but he swam away from them toward the middle of the river.

Niagara Helicopter’s was called in and got close enough to the victim so that wind from its blades forced him close enough to shore for rescuers to reach him. Hafen, 56, arrived in his Bell 407 helicopter 20 minutes after the man went in. He hovered his chopper just feet above the water where the man continued to swim, his head wounded from the fall. Mr. Hafen and his crew (made up of a police officer and one of Mr. Hafen's colleagues) lowered a harness to the man, who refused it.

"He wasn't cooperative," said pilot Ruedi Hafen, owner of Niagara Falls Helicopters. "He didn't try to be helpful. We had a sling on him and he got out of it."

Mr. Hafen said. "He was actually shouting at us to get away."

So, Mr. Hafen tried another approach. With winds at 35 knots and waves swirling, he used the force of his helicopter's rotor to create an artificial current, pushing the man towards shore.

Rescue crews said the man was in the water for about 45 minutes and spent much of that time resisting attempts to help him.

Firefighter Todd Brunning and another rescue worker swam about 60 yards from shore, grabbed hold of him and hauled him in.

Brunning said the man was floating on his back and got caught in an eddy, allowing Brunning to swim up behind him and wrap his arms around his chest.

"I was surprised he was still conscious when we got to him," Brunning said. "I guess he was lucky."

Brunning said the man was responsive to verbal commands but unable to talk.

"He was on a suicide mission, I assume," Hafen said. "I've never, in my career, seen someone so tough, swimming between the ice."

Konstantine Shatalov was snapping photos of Niagara Falls when he saw the man jump.

"He went in like he was swimming," said Shatalov. "I didn't think it was real. I thought I imagined it."

The man, who appeared to be in his mid-30s, with a heavy build, fell 57 metres from atop the Horseshoe Falls and plunged into the water below. His clothes had been torn off by the time he was spotted – still alive – about 300 metres downstream. The river’s temperature was 7C water just above freezing, and ice floes could be seen in the area.

Oshawa resident Phil Richmond, who was returning from a trip to Florida, was among dozens of onlookers who noticed the man.

"It appeared he didn't want to come into shore. I thought he was an idiot to be honest with you," said Richmond. "It looked like he was swimming, like he was one of those polar bear nuts who swims naked. I didn't realize he'd gone over the Falls."

The man was hypothermic, losing consciousness and bleeding from a severe gash across his forehead by the time he was rescued by firefighters, against his will, about 40 minutes later. But he was alive

Sgt. Chris Gallagher was among the first of the Canadian emergency personnel to respond to the 911 call received at 2:11 p.m. yesterday.

"I was able to get down to the river's edge, within approximately 40 feet (12 metres) of the male who was in the water," he said. "I could see that he was conscious and I attempted verbal commands to get him to the shoreline, but he refused to do so."

"Everything in the investigation so far leads us to believe he did this of his own accord," Sgt. Gallagher said, although police have not determined whether it was a stunt or a suicide attempt. "We don't know what his mental state was at the time."

 "I told him to swim toward me," Sgt. Gallagher said, but the man refused to co-operate and instead began swimming back out toward the current.

 In fact, said Gallagher, the man let go of a log he had been holding on to and swam further into the current. As emergency crews arrived on the shores at the bottom of the falls, they saw the man swimming through the water, which was only a few degrees above freezing. They called for him to come to shore, extending poles for him to grab, but the man swam away.

The Niagara Falls Fire Services' river rescue team was called in, while a police officer boarded a private helicopter and flew to the scene. Together, and despite the man's attempts to resist, they were able to bring him ashore.

The helicopter blew the man toward safe ground with the force of its rotor, where he was snatched by a firefighter wearing a wetsuit and tethered to the shore. The man was taken to Greater Niagara Hospital.

A Niagara Parks Police investigation is ongoing. No charges have been laid. It is illegal to attempt suicide by jumping into the Falls.

 

 

 

 

 

MR. Z

2012

(Survived - Failed Suicide Attempt)

    
pictures courtesy Reuters & Harry Rosettani

 

On a warm and sunny morning of Monday May 21st 2012 at 10:20 a.m. - Victoria Day holiday in Canada, a man climbed over a retaining wall railing 20 to 30 feet (6-9m) upriver of the Horseshoe Falls and "deliberately jumped" into the Niagara River, according to witness accounts given to Niagara Parks Police.

A man plunged at least 170 foot (57m) over Niagara Falls and survived — only the third person known to have gone over without a safety device and live after a failed suicide attempt.

Niagara Parks Police say witnesses reported seeing the man climb over a railing at 10:20 a.m. Monday and “deliberately jump” into the Niagara River above the Horseshoe Falls. He surfaced in the lower Niagara River basin near the Journey behind the Falls observation platform.

Seriously injured, he surfaced in the lower river basin near an observation platform and managed to make it to shore on his own, likely swept there by an eddy, said Platoon Chief Dan Orescanin of the Niagara Falls, Ontario, Fire Department.

The man, believed to be in his early 40s, was rescued about two hours after he collapsed in waist-deep water near the rocky shore. A waiting helicopter flew him to Hamilton General Hospital for treatment of non- life-threatening injuries. Police did not identify him.

Rescuers found him at the bottom of the Horseshoe Falls, on the rocks near the Journey Behind the Falls. Firefighters used an aerial truck to lift the man from the gorge to Table Rock Complex. "He waded ashore," said Platoon Chief Dan Orescanin of the Niagara Falls, Ontario, Fire Department. "He must have gotten swept into an eddy, floated over there and was able to get out on his own.

 The man, whose name wasn't released, was conscious and talking at first but got quiet, Orescanin said. He appeared to have chest injuries, including broken ribs and a collapsed lung, as well as a large wound on his forehead.

Parks Police Sergeant Chris Gallagher and firefighter Brandon Fife treated the man at the water’s edge. The man was shirtless, Gallagher but appeared to be wearing a pair of blue pants.

From there, about seven rescuers struggled to haul a basket carrying the man back up the cliff to a point where it could be lifted with ropes suspended from an aerial truck. The entire rescue took about two hours.

"We had to basically hand carried him back up, a foot at a time, up the rope," the chief said.

 “The expectation is he will pull through,” said Insp. Paul Forcier. “Things are looking positive for him.”

Forcier said Tuesday that police are treating the matter as a mental health issue and an apparent suicide and because of that would not be discussing it any further.

Police described the survivor as being middle-aged, but did not release his name, or his hometown. Police typically don’t release the names of people who have attempted suicide.

“We understand it’s certainly a story for the media, and in this case a remarkable event,” said Forcier. “But there is a belief in our industry with respect to nature or landmarks that could attract suicidal behavior or other risks that the less publicity given to it, the better.”

At Hamilton General Hospital, spokeswoman Agnes Bongers said he was critically injured but expected to survive.

Authorities don't believe the plunge was a stunt.

Constantine Shatallof says he watched as the man jumped into the rapids and then over the Horseshoe Falls.

Shatallof said, “Nobody seemed to notice or anything. So I was thinking, did they see it? Or was it for real? So it took me ten seconds and I called 911, and then other people ran from the top and they saw the guy floating towards it so a lot of people saw it.”

A sightseeing helicopter was immediately dispatched and a harness was lowered, but the man refused to grab on. The chopper then used its propellers to blow the man closer to the shore line where rescuers could get a hold of him. Rescuers say even after this man survived what they believe to be a suicide attempt; he did nothing to make their job any easier.

“He was swimming first when we got there, pretty perky still, and he could have helped up us getting the arm into the sling but he was obstructive,” said Shatallof.

"Based on witness statements and surveillance video, it doesn't appear in any way, shape, or form that this was anything other than a suicide attempt," Niagara Parks Police Sgt. Chris Gallagher.

The Niagara Falls Fire Department used an aerial truck to lift the man from the gorge to a waiting Ornge air ambulance around 12:16 p.m.

Jennifer Kramer, spokesperson for Hamilton Health Sciences, said the unidentified man who leapt into the water below the Falls on Victoria Day weekend has improved, after he was previously listed as critical.

Information was received that the man is married and has two children.

 

 

 

 

 

For 12,000 Years NIAGARA FALLS has been dominating
the Niagara Frontier.

IT IS AS ALLURING AND FEROCIOUS AS IT IS BEAUTIFUL AND MAJESTIC. IT IS TRULY A MYSTIC MAGNET FOR THOSE PERSONS WHO WISH TO CHALLENGE THEMSELVES AND THE NIAGARA RIVER IN THE FACE OF DEATH.

 

 

 

 

The previous Niagara Falls - Daredevils and their stories are examples of the history found in Niagara Falls.

To explore and read more about the life and times of these Daredevils, we would recommend your local Library. The Niagara Falls Library in Niagara Falls has a wealth of information about the daredevils and many others in their Special Collections Section.

 

 

 

 

 

 NIAGARA FALLS THUNDER ALLEY NAVIGATOR


INFORMATION INDEX


 


HISTORICAL ARCHIVE

 


PICTURES & SLIDESHOWS

 

SITE MAP

 

Date last updated: December 29, 2013

 

 

 

 

The following locations and facts about them are but a few of many famous sites & attractions to be found in Niagara Falls. The best of it is FREE to see...so think of Niagara Falls when planning your next vacation. If you have questions of a current or historical nature about the Niagara Falls area or suggestions feel free to e-mail Rick at

niagarahistory@gmail.com

 




 

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