This is a story about the 63-year-old widow who refused to stay at home and feel sorry for herself, or end up in a poorhouse, but instead, Annie Edson Taylor got herself in a wooden barrel, made the ride down the Niagara Falls and became the first person to survive the 174-foot journey.
Annie was one of those people who were simply born with a shortage of luck. She was one of eight children; her father died when she was 12-years-old. She met her husband during her studies and had a son who died in infancy. Her husband died soon after. After she was widowed, she spent her working years in between jobs and locales.
Desiring to secure her later years financially, and avoid the poorhouse, she decided she would be the first person to ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Taylor used a custom-made barrel for her trip, constructed of oak and iron and padded with a mattress. Several delays occurred in the launching of the barrel, particularly because no one wanted to be part of a potential suicide. Two days before Taylor’s own attempt, a domestic cat was sent over the Horseshoe Falls in her barrel to test its strength to see if the barrel would break or not. Contrary to rumors at the time, the cat survived the plunge and 17 minutes later, after she was found with a bleeding head, posed with Taylor in photographs.
On October 24, 1901, her 63rd birthday, the barrel was put over the side of a rowboat, and Taylor climbed in, along with her lucky heart-shaped pillow. After screwing down the lid, friends used a bicycle tire pump to compress the air in the barrel. The hole used for this was plugged with a cork, and Taylor was set adrift near the American shore, south of Goat Island.
The Niagara River currents carried the barrel over the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, which has since been the site for all daredevil stunting at Niagara Falls. Rescuers reached her barrel shortly after the plunge. Taylor was discovered to be alive and relatively uninjured, except for a small gash on her head. The trip itself took less than twenty minutes, but it was some time before the barrel was actually opened. After the journey, Annie Taylor told the press:
“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.”
She briefly earned money speaking about her experience, but was never able to build much wealth. Her manager, Frank M. Russell, ran away with her barrel, and most of her savings were used towards private detectives hired to find it. It was eventually located in Chicago, only to permanently disappear some time later.
She spent her final years posing for photographs with tourists at her souvenir stand, attempting to earn money from the New York Stock Exchange, briefly talking about taking a second plunge over the cataracts in 1906, attempting to write a novel, re-constructing her 1901 plunge on film (which was never seen), working as a clairvoyant, and providing magnetic therapeutic treatments to local residents.