After Annie Edison Taylor’s marriage ended with her husband dead in the Civil War and her infant child taken by illness, she spent years wandered North America, presumably looking for happiness. She must not have found it in teaching music and dance because when she returned to Michigan in 1901, Annie got an idea in her head that she likely hoped would bring her the fame, fortune, and purpose she desired.
In 1901, no one had gone over Niagara Falls in a barrel. People had challenged the falls in other ways – swimming the icy cold river, walking a tightrope between falls, and shooting the Whirlpool Rapids underneath in barrels – but no one had attempted going over them.
At the age of 63, Annie Edison Taylor decided that she was going to be the one to do it. And she was going to use her head to make sure (as sure as possible, anyway) that she came out alive.
First, she had a barrel specially made for the occasion. It was four-and-a-half feet high – big enough for her to fit in easily – and featured straps, as well as a mattress and pillows, to hold her steady and comfortable during the fall and impact. The barrel also had an air hole and a rubber tube for fresh air.
Annie tested her contraption on a cat named Iagara, who survived. Now it was her turn.
She climbed into her barrel about a mile upstream and floated down the Niagara River, drifting toward Horseshoe Falls (on the Canadian side). About 20 minutes later she took the big plunge, and another 20 minutes later rescue boats recovered her – alive.
If Taylor thought her feat would bring her fame and fortune, she was wrong. Though she did make some money selling photographs and making other public appearances, she had to spend a chunk immediately to chase down her barrel, which was stolen by a promoter after her successful stunt. She died pretty much broke in 1921.
If you’re still intrigued by the idea of a Niagara Falls stunt, here are a couple of reasons to forget about it:
- It’s illegal now, punishable by jail time and a fine of up to $25k.
- Annie Edson Taylor’s thoughts on her accomplishment? “No one ought ever do that again.”
And she would know.
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