June 3rd, 2010 by Smithsonian Journeys
First and foremost, do not try any of these ridiculous stunts. It’s illegal – it could cost you up to a $10,000 fine and banishment from Canada – and you would likely get hurt very, very badly.
That being said, here is our brief list of ridiculously silly and dangerous daredevil attempts at Niagara Falls. For the full list of absurdity from the mid-1800s to 1951, click here.
- 1. The first tightroper to cross Niagara River was “The Great Blondin.” Jean François Gravelet-Blondinwas a 31-year-old professional European circus performer. At the first of his many tightrope walks over the river, Gravelet made a spectacle on June 30, 1859, by pausing dramatically with his balancing pole and then did a sudden back somersault on the rope. He later crossed the river on his rope while riding a bicycle, walking blindfolded, pushing a wheelbarrow, and even cooked an omelet in the center. He lived a long and happy life, passing away in England at the age of 73.
- Some swimmers made the attempt to go over the falls, with tragically mixed results. Captain Matthew Webb had already conquered swimming the English Channel when he made his attempt on July 2, 1883. He failed, and his body was recovered four days later down river in Lewiston, New York. Three years later, a policeman from Boston named William Kendall made it—with the help of a very effective life preserver.
- The last tightrope performances at the Falls were by 21-year-old James Hardy in July of 1896. His performances were the last permitted at the site.
- The first person to ever make the attempt in a barrel was actually a 63-year-old schoolteacher named Annie Taylor. She climbed into an air-tight wooden barrel with her cat on October 24, 1901. The air pressure inside was compressed to 30 p.s.i. with a bicycle pump, and when she emerged, she was simply bruised and battered – and expected fame and fortune. She instead died in poverty. The cat was fine.
- Bobby Leach attempted the drop in a steel barrel in 1911, but ended up breaking both kneecaps and his jaw. Yet, he still survived. Years later he traveled to New Zealand, where he slipped on an orange peel and died from complications due to gangrene.
People still request to make attempts to cross Niagara River and the Falls even today. In November of 1996, the Niagara Parks Commission denied a request for a proposed skywalk by Jay Cochrane. Commission Chairman Gary Burroughs announced, “The net effect of this type of event is to encourage less qualified individuals to perform stunts or feats that put not only themselves at risk, but also those who may be involved in their rescue.”
Were these people brave, insane, or plain old stupid? Share your thoughts below.
To see how daring (or stupid) these people were, you must see Niagara Falls for yourself on The Great Lakes: A Voyage through North America’s Inland Sea. Save $700 per person off your cabin price for Categories E-AA. Also, save $2,000 per person off your cabin price on Categories VS and PHS.
Tags: canada, great lakes, greatlakes2010, niagara falls, United States