Annie Edson Taylor: Heroine of Niagara Falls

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Annie Edson Taylor led a fairly conventional life for most of her existence. Widowed by the Civil War and childless, she spent many years taking on odd jobs to support herself. Eventually she came up with the idea that would keep her known to present day: going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

The barrel used was specially-constructed from oak and iron, and lined with a mattress. Nevertheless, she had trouble lining up the stunt – nobody particularly wanted to help this peculiar old woman commit suicide. After many delays, they sent out a cat in the barrel two days before she was to do the stunt herself. The cat, thankfully, survived.

On October 24, 1901, her 63rd birthday (although she told everyone she was 43), she climbed in the barrel with her heart shaped pillow (for good luck, naturally). Her friends compressed the air in the barrel with a bicycle tire pump, sealed the hole, and set her off. She survived handily, although it took some time to recover the barrel.

Later asked of the experience, she later remarked:

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.

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  • noisyninja

    Radio lab did a really great piece on her…the tragedy of course was that as a (mature) woman, her notoriety didn’t last, partly because of her manager running off with the barrel and touring it with a much younger woman (whom he pawned off as Annie!), and she died penniless. The man who did it 10 years later toured the world, presumably to fame and fortune, but he soon slipped on an orange peel and died of gangrene. C’est la vie!