Tuesday, July 16, 2013


This is the true story of a woman named Annie Edson Taylor, who was a real person.  And the reason she has a story to tell is because she was the first person ever to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and end up alive afterwards.

Francis J. Petrie Photograph Collection

Annie Edson was born on October 24, 1838 in upstate New York.  Her father owned a flour mill.  He died when Annie was only 12 years old, but he left the family enough money so that they were pretty well off.  Miss Edson went to school and learned how to be a teacher.  She married David Taylor, and they had a son.  Sadly, their little boy died when he was still a baby.  Then not long after that, Mr. Taylor got killed in the Civil War.

After that, Mrs. Taylor wandered around the country, teaching and doing different things.  For a while, she lived in Bay City Michigan, and she started a dance school there so she could teach dance.  Then she moved to Sault Ste. Marie to teach music.  From there, she went to San Antonio and then on to Mexico City with a friend.  When they couldn't find work in Mexico City, Mrs. Taylor went back to Bay City.

As she got older, Mrs. Taylor worried about ending up in the poorhouse, so she tried to think up some way to make a bunch of money.  Several people had done stunts around Niagara Falls, such as crossing it on a tightrope or riding through the rapids below the Falls in a barrel.  But nobody had tried going over the actual Falls.

Mrs. Taylor decided she should be the first one to do this crazy -- I mean "brave" -- thing, so she ordered a special barrel to use in doing it.  The barrel was 4.5 feet high and was made of oak and iron.  There were straps to hold her steady, and a mattress and pillow to cushion her.  A small air hole with a rubber tube let her breathe fresh air.

Two days before Mrs. Taylor went over the Falls, a cat named Lagara was put in the barrel and sent over.  If you ask me, this seems pretty unfair to the cat, who didn't have a choice in the matter, but at least it was a cat and not a dog.  Everyone was pleased when the cat made it through the trip with only a cut on its head.  The cat was probably the most pleased of all, and it posed with Mrs. Taylor for photos.

On October 24, 1901, which was Annie Edson Taylor's 63rd birthday, she and some men went out in a boat to a place about a mile above the Falls, near Goat Island.  They put the barrel in the water, and Mrs. Taylor climbed into it.  She was holding her lucky heart-shaped pillow.  There was an anvil in the bottom of the barrel to serve as ballast.  Mrs. Taylor's crew used a bicycle pump to compress the air in the barrel, and then they let the barrel go.

It took about 20 minutes for the barrel to get to the Horseshoe Falls, which are on the Canadian side.  Then the barrel went over.  After that, it was another 20 minutes or so before the rescue team could catch the barrel and saw the lid off.  Then Mrs. Taylor climbed out, kind of bruised and with a concussion, but still alive.

Later on, she told the press, "If it was with my dying breath, I would caution anyone against attempting the feat... I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the Fall."

Mrs. Taylor was able to earn a little money talking about her experience, but then her manager ran off with her barrel.  She used her savings to hire private detectives to find the barrel.  Finally, it showed up in Chicago, but later it disappeared again.  She spent the last years of her life selling souvenirs and posing for photos with tourists.  She also tried to earn some money on the stock market, by working as a clairvoyant, and by trying to write a novel.  In 1906 she talked about going over the Falls again, but she soon gave up that idea.  On April 29, 1921, Annie Taylor died at the age of 82, in Lockport, NY.  She is buried in the "Stunters Section" of Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls, NY.

Photo by Knightflyte

At least 15 other people have gone over Niagara Falls since Annie Edson Taylor did it in 1901.  Some went in barrels and others in boats, inner tubes, and on a jet ski.  Sadly, several of these people did not live to tell about their experience.  But others survived and then went back to do the stunt a second time.  Nowadays it is illegal to try any stunts at Niagara Falls, and if you do, you can end up in jail, with a fine of $25,000.  Personally, I would not want to go over Niagara Falls, even if you paid me $25,000.  It's true that a dog could buy a lot of treats with that amount of money, but what good are treats if you're all smashed to pieces at the bottom of a waterfall?

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