On This Day – October 24th

On this day, October 24th, the first barrel ride took place in the Niagara Falls 119 years ago. It was a 63-year-old schoolteacher by the name of Annie Edson Taylor who took the plunge back in 1901, and it’s an amazing feat that made Niagara Falls history.

For those of you not familiar with the term, “barrel riding” or “tube riding” is typically a surfer term that describes the act of riding inside the curve or barrel that’s caused by a breaking wave. This is an advanced skill and surfers spend years or in some cases their entire lives trying to get the perfect barrel ride; however, Annie Edson Taylor was not a surfer, so the term “barrel riding” takes a more literal meaning for today’s story.

Annie Edson Taylor was born in New York in 1908 and she was one of 8 children. She grew up to become a schoolteacher after receiving an honors degree in a 4-year training course. During her studies, she met David Taylor, who would become her husband. They had a son together, but he died in his infancy. Soon after, her husband died in the Civil War. Once a widowed, she moved all over the United States. Finally, in 1989, she settled in Bay City, Michigan. She was between jobs and was eager to secure her future.

In July 1902, Annie was reading an article about the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo and she learned about the Niagara Falls, two gigantic waterfalls right on the border of upstate New York and Canada that were becoming more and more popular. That’s when she decided she was going to become the first person to barrel ride over Niagara Falls. After all, all Taylor wanted was to pull off the perfect stunt to become famous, and she did just that.

For her incredible stunt, she used a custom-made barrel, which was made of oak and iron. It was also padded with a mattress on the inside to provide at least some padding for the stunt. She even tried the barrel over the Horseshoe Falls with a cat as a stand-in to see if the barrel was strong enough for something like that. According to rumors, the cat survived — thank goodness!

So, on October 24th, 1901, her 63rd birthday, it finally happened. They put the barrel on the side of a rowboat, she climbed in, they screwed the lid on and then compressed the air in the barrel with a bicycle tire pump. She was then set adrift and the currents of the lake carried the barrel over Niagara Falls.

Shortly after she plunged, rescuers reached the barrel to find Annie Taylor alive and miraculously well, although she was a bit battered and had a small gash on her head.  Otherwise, she was fine. After the experience, she cautioned people not to try the stunt themselves and she said she would rather walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it would blow her to pieces than go over Niagara Falls again.

Needless to say, she did inspire more than one daredevil. Though it was her desire to become rich and famous as a result of the stunt, that is not exactly what happened. She earned some money talking about her experience, but she did not manage to build the wealth she really wanted. The final years of her life were spent posing for photos with tourists at her souvenir stand. She died on April 29, 1921, at 82 years old.

After Taylor, and between the years 1901 and 1995, fifteen people attempted to barrel ride over Niagara Falls. Only ten of them survived. Among the people who sadly died was Jesse Sharp, who attempted the plunge in a kayak more recently in 1990.

There was also Robert Overcracker, who decided to use a jet ski in 1995. Rober was actually wearing a parachute for the stunt, which was meant to increase awareness for the homeless, but the parachute failed to open.

On July 25th, 1911, Bobby Leach took the plunge over the Falls in a steel barrel managing to break both kneecaps and his jaw. He was the second person to do this after Annie Taylor, but he spent six months recovering in the hospital too.

On July 4th, 1928, Jean Lussier took the plunge in a large rubber ball and survived. Then, on July 5th, 1930, George L. Statakis took the plunge, but was trapped behind the falls for more than 14 hours, and he suffocated to death. On July 3rd, 1984, Karel Soucek became the first Canadian to successfully take the plunge over Niagara Falls.

Kirk Jones made history on October 22nd, 2003, by plunging over Niagara Falls with nothing but the clothes on his back. He had the idea for many years, and he finally decided to do it. He had some small bumps and bruises, but he was fined $2,300 for the stunt and was banned from Canada for life.  The only sad thing about this is that Kirk and the friend who accompanied him were a bit drunk so the friend couldn’t figure out how to get the camcorder to work; therefore, there is no video of this amazing feat.

So, what happens if you try to go over Niagara Falls today? Needless to say, it is illegal to go over Niagara Falls in any way these days. Survivors face stiff fines and charges on either side of the border, not to mention you risk getting banned from Canada for life – just like Kirk Jones did.  

Obviously, the people who have attempted the stunt are mostly thrill-seekers, daredevils, and people with crazy ideas. Some of them got extremely lucky and lived to tell their story, while others lost their lives. The Lintonian and its staff do not recommend this at all, but learning about the people who did it is very interesting indeed!

Featured photo by Jack Winbow from Pexels

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