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.