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A 63-year-old Teacher and a Barrel

I stumbled upon an interesting story today. On October 24, 1901, a 63-year-old schoolteacher named Annie Edson Taylor was the first person to successfully go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

This article caught my attention because the woman was a teacher, a profession with which I identify, and because she was not who I would have expected to try a stunt like this.

The first person to go over the Falls was a man named, Sam Patch, also known as the Yankee Leaper. He jumped down the 175-foot Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side of the border in October 1829. He did not have any gear to help or protect him and managed to survive the jump.

Please pardon my preconceived stereotypes here, but this is the type of person, a younger, dare-devil male, whom I would have expected to try something like this. I have known many more men in my life who are willing to try more risky ventures, than woman, though admittedly, my experience is limited.

Still, it is hard to imagine a 63-year-old woman conceiving the idea to go over the highly dangerous Niagra Falls in a barrel. What circumstances led Annie to make this desperate and daring attempt to risk her life for a stunt? Was it for the adrenaline rush, fame and fortune, or perhaps she had a death wish?

As I think about Annie’s motivations, it occurs to me that my mother has ridden roller coasters and gone up in a hot air balloon when she was older than 63! And she has always wanted to go sky-jumping too, though has not had the opportunity. Maybe I should not be so surprised after all!

Annie’s story had captured my attention. I read the article and discovered that she had lost her husband during the Civil War. She moved around a lot after his death, finally settling in Bay City, Michigan. She read an article in July 1901 about the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. The article talked about the growing popularity of the enormous waterfalls on the Niagara River, which drained water from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario on the New York-Ontario border.

Annie needed money and decided to seek fame and fortune by going over the falls on her 63rd birthday. She strapped herself into a leather harness inside a pillow-lined pickle barrel. Then she was sealed into the barrel, released up stream. Twenty minutes later, she was retrieved alive, but battered, in Lake Ontario and taken ashore.

Afterwards, she did enjoy a brief flurry of photo-ops and speaking engagements, but people quickly tired of her story. She never made the fortune she sought.

It seems that Annie did have a little sense in that she had tested her barrel a few days previously by sending her cat over the falls. Her cat also survived the journey, thus giving her confidence in her own attempt.

Shortly after being pulled from the barrel, Annie said, “No one ought ever to do that again.”

Against her advice, over a dozen others have intentionally gone over the falls in or on a device, but not all of them have survived and some were severely injured. It is now illegal to go over the falls and those who do are severely fined.

No matter where your journey takes you, may you always enjoy the adventure!

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