On This Day in History: October 24

Going over Niagara Falls in a barrel

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As a kid in 1970s there were all sorts of strange things we heard about, such as how fucking dangerous quicksand supposedly was, and something about going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Like it was a career choice. Anyway, the first person to do it was a 63-year-old woman. She did it as a career choice.

--On This Day in History, Shit Went Down: October 24, 1901--

Born in New York in 1838, Annie Edson Taylor was more for seeking outdoor adventure than playing with dolls. During her life she managed to survive when others didn’t. Her only child died in infancy and her husband was killed in the U.S. Civil War fighting against the pro-slavery shit-nibblers. She survived a housefire in Tennessee and an earthquake in South Carolina. When traveling in Texas she was the victim of a stagecoach robbery, and despite having a gun pointed at her head Annie refused to give up the $800 (a lot of money back then) hidden in her dress.

As she approached her 60s, Taylor struggled to make ends meet, working as a dance instructor and running a charm school to little success. With the 1901 Pan-American Exposition being held in Niagara Falls, she got an idea to make some cash. This was the age of Houdini and Barnum & Bailey; there was money to be made in death defying. So Annie said fuck it, gonna go over a 160-foot waterfall in a barrel and people gonna pay me. No one had tried it before, but below the falls had been the scene of derring-do and dumbfuckery. The first man to swim the English Channel drowned 10 minutes into trying to swim the rapids below the falls in 1883. Oops. Continues below.

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Taylor’s custom-made barrel contained a leather harness and cushioned interior, but she struggled to find assistants for her stunt because most considered it suicide. She’d tested the barrel two days before her attempt with a cat inside. The cat survived and she said okay good enough for a cat is good enough for me. On October 24, 1901—her 63rd birthday—a rowboat tossed the barrel over the side upstream from the falls, with Annie Taylor secured inside. As she floated downstream, I wonder if she was plagued with thoughts of This was a really terrible fucking idea.

She went over on the Canadian side at Horseshoe Falls. Rescuers located the barrel downstream and Taylor was found alive, suffering only a small gash on her head. She told the media, “I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than to make another trip over the falls.” In the following century, 15 people went over the falls. Five didn’t make it. One of those who died attempted it on a jet ski. Lolwut?

Alas, Annie didn’t make much money from her stunt, and her media manager stole her barrel. She wasted what little money she had hiring private detectives in a vain attempt to track it down, but the barrel was never seen again.

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