October 24th will mark the 110th anniversary of Annie Edson Taylor’s successful attempt to become the first person to ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
Seeking fame and fortune, Taylor decided to journey to the Niagara Falls site. Niagara Falls was a popular tourist site, and daredevils had already attempted various stunts across the waters – numerous swimmers had braved the cold currents beneath, and tightrope walks were old news. There had been a few attempts to ride in barrels across the whirlpool currents below the falls, but no one had yet dared to take the full ride down. Annie Edson Taylor would be just such person.
Taylor had a barrel custom made so that she could fit comfortably inside, and had some straps secured along with a mattress and some pillows to help reduce the severity of the impact. She also had a small air hole with a rubber tube so she could breathe during the journey.
Before she entered the barrel herself, she tested it out with a cat, Lagara, who completed the journey unscathed (proven by the publicity photo taken with Taylor after its stunt).
If a cat could do it, so could Taylor! She began her journey on October 24th, 1901 (her 63rd birthday) shortly after 4 p.m. She climbed into her barrel with her lucky heart-shaped pillow, and was assisted by a few friends who helped carry the barrel into a rowboat. Taylor was sent toward the American shore, and the boat drifted to Horseshoe Falls.
It was then that Taylor plummeted down the falls. Observers of the stunt would be breathless for the next 20 minutes (although Taylor herself wouldn’t be entirely breathless), as the rescue boats were not close enough to pull Taylor out. When they opened the barrel, Taylor came out alive saying, “No one ought ever do that again.” She was later to comment, “The feeling was one of absolute horror.”
Thankfully, Taylor had little injuries besides a scalp wound. The trip took a total of 20 minutes (not including the 20 minutes it took for her to be rescued).
Her dream of fame and fortune was short lived. While she did make a little money posing for photographs, and appearing in the press at various times, she died in poverty in 1921, and her name doesn’t hold the universal acknowledgement she had envisioned.
One of her later comments to the press was, “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..”
But her cautionary advice wouldn’t keep adventure seekers and adrenaline junkies alike from resisting the temptation of planning new exciting stunts across the falls as there would be numerous daredevils to come.
Today, however, it is actually illegal to attempt any dangerous stunt across Niagara Falls. Anyone found attempting a stunt can be punished with imprisonment and fines of up to $25,000.