Posts Tagged ‘great lakes’

Notable Daredevil Stunts at Niagara Falls

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Annie Edson Taylor, aka "Queen of the Mist", was the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and survive.

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. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Five Things You Didn’t Know About the Great Lakes

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010
The American Falls of Niagara

The American Falls of Niagara

Those of us who grew up near the Great Lakes already know the basics.

They consist of Lakes Erie, Huron, Michigan Ontario, and Superior. They provide 20% of the world’s fresh water, and are the largest grouping of freshwater lakes on the Earth’s surface. And, of course, the lake effect snow from these waterways create endless frustration every winter.

Then there are those of us who like to have a little more advanced knowledge…

  1. Lake Erie is the shallowest lake at 210 ft while Lake Superior is the deepest at 1,332 ft.
  2. Each lake has Native American roots to its name, except Lake Superior. While they are all either Ojibwe, Wyandot, or Iroquois names, Lake Superior is actually an English translation of French term “lac supérieur” (“upper lake”), referring to its position above Lake Huron. But the Ojibwe have their own name for it and call it “Gitchigumi.
  3. Travel through the Great Lakes began in 1844 and expanded in 1857, when palace steamers carried passengers and cargo around the Great Lakes. Tourism really picked up throughout the 20th century when large luxurious passenger steamers sailed from Chicago all the way to Detroit and Cleveland.
  4. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society in Paradise, Michigan explores notable historic maritime sites ranging from the infamous SS Edmund Fitzgerald to recently discovered 1902 ship Cyprus – which sank on its second voyage carrying iron ore from Superior, Wisconsin to Buffalo, New York.
  5. The redheaded stepchild of the Great Lakes is Lake Champlain, which was briefly labeled as the sixth great lake by the Federal government on March 6, 1998. But after much media and public ridicule for being too small to be “Great,” the offer was rescinded on March 24, 1998.

Did you grow up near a Great Lake? What are your favorite memories? Share Below.

Join us on the luxorious Clelia II and explore the Great Lakes in all their splendor.

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.

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Cruising The Great Lakes

Monday, November 30th, 2009

Alex Whaley is a Reservation Specialist in the Smithsonian Journeys call center, where she advises travelers on where to go and what tours best meet their needs. She recently accompanied Smithsonian travelers on our Great Lakes cruise, and here, she shares her reflections on the experience.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Our journey aboard the Clelia II began as we traveled east from Duluth, Minnesota and the waters of Lake Superior, to Toronto and the waters of Lake Ontario. All voyages through such beautiful landscapes would be lovely, but traveling with Smithsonian made the journey a memorable and enriching experience.

The star of my voyage, my study leader, Dr. Bob Burger, is a university professor of geology, and because of the design of our Smithsonian tours, not only was I able to attend his fascinating lectures, I was also able to travel with him on our daily excursions and dine with him at several points throughout the tour. It was like having your favorite professor in college by your side anytime!

Throughout our voyage, our lectures focused on how the Great Lakes  were formed, the mineral deposits of the regions, the natural wonders of the lakes, and finally what trade and settlements developed as a result of the lakes. Of course, each of these lectures tied in directly to our daily excursions. Excursions included the copper mines of Houghton, Minnesota, the Fur Trade Settlement of Old Fort William, and Niagara Falls, as well as the locks our ship passed through.

These locks are incredible feats of engineering- the Soo Locks of Sault St. Marie are the busiest in the world with 12000 ships passing annually, and the Welland Canal is a series of seven locks designed as a continuous flight of “stairs” that lifted Clelia II 324 feet over a distance of 27 miles! I couldn’t believe how excited our travelers got as we passed through these locks, and it was wonderful to share their enthusiasm.

My most memorable moment with Dr. Burger, however, was on Mackinac Island as we visited Arch Rock, a natural limestone arch formed during the Nipissing post-glacial period. According to Native American legend, this rock was formed when a beautiful Indian maiden’s tears washed away the limestone bluff as she waited in vain for her lover to return. As we were looking at the beautiful site, he turned to me with quiet humor and said, “Well, it’s possible, but not very likely that that’s how it was formed.” Experiencing history and nature firsthand is truly exceptional, and Study Leaders like Dr. Burger make the difference between being a tourist and becoming a traveler.

What’s your favorite engineering marvel? Share below.

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