Annie Edsen Taylor: Niagara Falls Daredevil
When teacher Annie Edson Taylor's husband was killed in the American Civil War, she found herself in dire straits financially. Not one to give in to pessimism, she was convinced that somehow she would achieve the fortune and fame her educational profession did not provide. After many restless years of wandering around the country teaching music and dance, Annie made the bold decision to become a Niagara Falls daredevil. She wanted to be the first person to plunge the dangerous depths of the falls in a barrel and survive. And she did.
Annie Edson Taylor
Annie Edson Taylor was born in Auburn, New York on October 24, 1838. She was one of eight children. Her father, Merrick Edson, died when Annie was 12 years old. He was the owner of a flour mill and, despite his early death, left the family enough money to live comfortably. Because Annie enjoyed to read, she decided to become a teacher. She took a four year training course and graduated with honors. While in school she met David Taylor who she fell in love with and later married. She bore a child with David but the child tragically died in infancy. Annie and David's marriage was short-lived. When her husband died fighting in the war, Annie hit the road running. She traveled extensively going as far as Mexico City. In 1901 while Annie was in Michigan, she read an article in the newspaper about the increasing popularity of Niagara Falls. It was then that she saw an opportunity to finally get the attention she was sure she deserved but had yet to see.
Niagara Falls is actually three waterfalls straddling the border of the United States and Canada. The largest is Horseshoe Falls which is primarily in Canada. American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls lie on the American side. These waterfalls are very powerful. The most impressive is Horseshoe Falls which has a vertical height of 188 feet. It is 2,600 feet wide and the volume of water at peak season can approach 100,000 cubic feet per second. It is one of the most voluminous waterfalls in the world. Annie Taylor chose Horseshoe Falls as the location of her spectacular stunt.
Once she made up her mind, Annie immediately started to prepare. She had the barrel for her escapade custom-made giving her enough room for herself and plenty of padding to cushion the impact of the fall. She had an air hole drilled and installed straps to hold her in. She also had a 200-lb. anvil anchored to the bottom so the barrel turn upright when it rolled over. She was not the first to consider plunging down the falls in a barrel but so far no one had actually dared to follow through. Annie gave her barrel feat a trial run by sending a cat named Lagara down first. The cat was fine and the barrel held up well. She hired a carnival promoter to handle her publicity and then Annie was ready to go.
Annie chose her birthday to take her big ride. Though she claimed that she was only in her 40's, records later showed that she had turned 63 on October 24, 1901, the day she took the plunge. With the help of two assistants, she strapped herself in. The barrel was towed by a small boat to the middle of the fast moving Niagara River. Once cut loose, the barrel and its occupant drifted toward the crest of Horseshoe Falls. Thousands of spectators had showed up to witness her feat. Before long, the barrel and its occupant reached the crest of the falls and dropped out of sight. The drop was 158 feet.
The whole ordeal took under twenty minutes. Rescuers at the bottom of the falls were relieved when they spotted the barrel bobbing in the water. Once they reached it, it took well over an hour to open it because the lid had to be sawed off. When they did, a very bruised but alive Annie Taylor walked out. It was thought she had a mild concussion and there was a 3-inch gash on her head. Annie was talking as the crowds cheered her success. This is what she said - “... I would sooner walk up the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the Fall.”
At first, the publicity surrounding Annie's accomplishment was widespread. She earned income from giving talks about her experience but all too soon her popularity faded. Her manager stole her barrel and she spent what little she earned hiring private investigators to find him. Once again, Annie was scrambling around trying to get by. She traveled from one souvenir shop to another posing for photographs and selling postcards with her image. She tried writing a novel and even considered another trip over the Falls in 1906 which she eventually decided against. The fortune and fame she yearned for never materialized.
She was broke when she died on April 29, 1921 at the age of 82. She is noted as both a brave and indomitable woman who never gave up. Annie was buried in the “Stunters” section of Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara, New York where she joined other Niagara daredevils. Today it is illegal to attempt any stunts on the Falls and activities there are highly regulated.