Annie Edson Taylor, a 63-year-old schoolteacher, was the first person to successfully take the plunge over Niagara Falls in a barrel on October 24, 1901
After her husband was killed in the Civil War, Taylor wandered around the United States before settling in Bay City, Michigan, in 1898. In July 1901, she learned about the growing popularity of two gigantic waterfalls on the boundary between upstate New York and Canada while reading an article about the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. Taylor, who was short on funds and wanted to be a celebrity, devised the ideal attention-getting stunt: she would ride a barrel over Niagara Falls.
Annie Edson Taylor’s Early Life
Annie Edson was born on October 24, 1838, in the Finger Lakes region of New York to Merrick and Lucretia (Waring) Edson, who had a successful milling enterprise and later became farmers. Anna was described as a young woman with a dreamy demeanor, a vibrant imagination “driven by an insatiable hunger for adventure stories” and a disinterest in dolls (she preferred outdoor sports). Her dreams outgrew her surroundings quickly.
Taylor didn’t suit the idea of the dashing practitioner of daring-do, and she certainly didn’t fit the image of a damsel in distress.
She met David Taylor during her studies. They were married and had a child, but he died when he was an infant. Her husband passed away soon after. She spent her working years after she was widowed, bouncing around from job to job and location to location.
Starting her career as a dancing teacher
She eventually settled in Bay City, Michigan, where she intended to teach dance. Taylor started her own dance school because there were none in Bay City at the time. In 1900, she traveled to Sault Ste. Marie to teach dance and music. She then flew to San Antonio, Texas, before heading to Mexico City with a buddy to look for work. She returned to Bay City after being unsuccessful.
She escaped a house fire in Chattanooga, Tenn., and an earthquake in South Carolina, as well as a robbery on a stagecoach she was traveling on in rural Texas. She refused to hand them her money, which was hidden in her dress, until they held a gun to her head.
As she remembers in her memoir, she commanded them to “blow away.” “I’d like to be without my intellect as much as I’d prefer to be without money.”
In around 1898, Taylor moved to Bay City, Michigan, near Saginaw Bay, and began teaching the waltz and table etiquette to children of the local elite. However, as her students grew older, the income from her charm school diminished, and she quickly found herself looking for other ways to supplement her income.
Motivated with 1901 Pan-American Exposition
She learned about the 1901 Pan-American Exposition at that time and chose to participate in something she had never done before.
She didn’t appear to be a daredevil: Taylor, who is stout and graying, even lied about her age to reporters, claiming to be in her early 40s.
She created her own vessel, sketching a plan and creating a cardboard and string prototype. The barrel was built by a local company that created beer kegs, and she chose each piece of wood. The final product was irregular and oblong, with a width of less than three feet and tapered ends. It was secured by ten metal hoops and weighted with an anvil to keep it upright on its watery journey.
Barrel was tested with pet cat
The launch of the barrel was delayed several times, mostly because no one wanted to be a part of a suicide attempt. A pet cat was sent over the Horseshoe Falls in her barrel two days before Taylor’s attempt to test its strength and see if it would break or not. Despite speculation at the time, the cat survived the plunge and posed with Taylor seventeen minutes later, after she was discovered with a bloodied head.
Fresh air was pumped into the barrel before Taylor was shut inside on October 24, 1901, her 63rd birthday, in the afternoon of the act – enough for about an hour, though her voyage would take significantly less time. She was pulled to the Horseshoe Falls, the largest of the three falls at the location, from the Canadian side of the Niagara River, where the waters were deeper.
Annie Edson Taylor was released and floated toward “the Mighty Cataract,” as she subsequently called it, protected only by cushions crammed in around her after a hasty goodbye to the boatmen who had dragged her to the edge.
Annie Edson Taylor wrote, “I felt like I was suffocating,” but she was determined to be brave.
As the sound of the falls got louder, the barrel swung and soared down the rapids near the edge. After a little period of strange quiet at the top, Taylor felt gravity pull her down.
As she approached the cliff, the barrel did exactly what she had expected. “It halted for a time, and then took the terrible plunge.”
She hit the surface and sank beneath it seconds later, the barrel twirling as it was flung around before surfacing beyond the falls’ curtain. Water began to seep in, and the barrel bounced against the rocks before being flung back into the churn “like an arrow from a bow.”
She was not long adrift; as throngs of spectators watched from both the American and Canadian sides, she was quickly pulled from the water by a team of worried boatmen, who tore the lid off the barrel and discovered her startled, seasick, bruised, with a cut on her head, and clutching a waterlogged pillow.
“Good God!” exclaimed one of the rescuers, Carlisle Graham, a fellow daredevil. “She’s still alive!” exclaims the narrator.
A steamboat, The Maid of the Mist, blasted its horn in jubilation when word of her achievement was relayed to spectators through a loudspeaker. A few days later, the Boston Globe reported that Taylor had completed a feat “never attempted save in the purposeful conduct of suicide.”
The drop, however, faded from memory as the years passed and its specifics were clouded. Some sources indicated it happened on Oct. 21, while the majority reported it happened on Oct. 24, which is Taylor’s birthday.
Later years of Annie Edson Taylor
She also starred in a silent-film re-enactment of her famous stunt from 1901.
She declared she would never attempt another crossing of the falls, choosing instead to walk into a cannon’s mouth.
Annie Edson Taylor told The Globe that she’d rather face a cannon than go over the falls again.
She sold her book and tried her hand at other money-making ventures for many years after this occurrence in the 1910s, including operating as a clairvoyant and giving “electric and magnetic” medical treatments. The manager, Frank M. Russell, stole her barrel, and she spent the majority of her resources on hiring private investigators to track it down. It was eventually discovered in Chicago, only to vanish forever a short time later.
Death of Annie Edson Taylor
Annie Edson Taylor may have found the celebrity she so desperately desired, but she did not find the fortune. She died on April 29, 1921, at the age of 82, in the Niagara County Infirmary in Lockport, New York, and was buried in the “Stunter’s Rest” part of Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls, New York, alongside English-born daredevil Carlisle D. Graham (1850–1909). On May the 5th, 1921, she was laid to rest. Her trip over the falls was to blame for her poor health and near-blindness.
Annie Edson Taylor was dubbed the “Goddess of Water” by her contemporaries. Her descendants released the following lines from a poem written in her honor in a 1990 biography:
This great heroine of our nation
has won both fortune and fame.
Now people all over creation
will praise this illustrious dame.
Mrs. Annie Edson Taylor was the first person to survive a trip over the mighty Niagara Falls, and she surely achieved the fame she sought.
Aftermath of Annie Edson Taylor
Following her stunt, both New York and Canada implemented laws to prevent others from following in Annie Edson Taylor’s footsteps. Needless to say, this did not deter anyone from attempting it. Between 1901 and 1995, 15 persons attempted to scale the falls, but only ten made it. Sam Patch, a.k.a. the “Yankee Leapster,” jumped into the falls from a high tower in 1829; and Bobby Leach, a Cockney circus stuntman who survived the plunge in a custom-designed metal barrel in 1911, only to die 15 years later when he slipped on an orange peel during a publicity tour, broke his leg, and developed gangrene he survived the amputation but died soon after.
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Source – Wikipedia
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