Today is October 24, and it was on this day in history that a woman named Annie Edson Taylor became the first person to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
Taylor was born in Auburn, New York, and her father owned a flour company. Her father had died when she was just 12 years old, but her family was able to live comfortably because of the money he left from the flour business.
When she became an adult, Taylor took a four-year training course to become a schoolteacher, and she received an honors degree. She had met a man during her training course, and they eventually married. They had a son together, but he died in infancy, and her husband died shortly thereafter when he was killed during the Civil War. Being a widower, she traveled and worked at odd jobs to make ends meet. One of her travels took her to Bay City, Michigan, where she opened a dance school. She had gone to to Bay City in hopes of being a dance instructor but when she found there was no school for it, she opened her own.
She traveled from Bay City to the Upper Peninsula in a town called Sault Ste. Marie (pronounced “soo saint marie”) and then all the way south to Mexico City and eventually back to Bay City. She taught wherever she went but never found the spot to make a career and earn a good living. One day, while on a boat ride on the Niagara River, she got the idea to go over the falls in a barrel and thought she could become wealthy from doing that.
She hired a manager to promote the event and had a special barrel made from a pickle barrel with padding in it. It was her 63rd birthday when she attempted this feat. There had been other daredevils before her who did things like walk a tightrope across the falls, and some even barreled around in the rapids below the falls, but no one ever took the plunge all the way down. She wanted to be the first, in hopes that this would garner her money and fame.
Thousands of people gathered around to watch this daredevil at the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side of the Falls. The barrel was to plunge down 188 feet (57 meters), the equivalent of a 17-story building. It went over, and when the barrel was eventually opened up, Annie Edson Taylor came out with a gash on her forehead and some bruises – but she was alive.
She didn’t make a lot of money from the event, and the money she did make was embezzled by her manager, so she soon became poor again. In a newspaper interview, Taylor told people not to attempt the feat as it was very dangerous. She said she would never do it again, yet thrill seekers over the years have made the attempt anyway – in barrels, boats and inner tubes, and even on a jet ski. Most of the people attempting this feat have died, and some of the survivors went on to do it a second time. Now there is a $25,000 fine levied against anyone trying to go over the falls on purpose.
Annie Edson Taylor died in 1921 at the age of 89. She died broke, and her name never became the household name she wanted, but she did go down in history as the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
(Public domain image available on Wikipedia)