For years, male daredevils had gained fame and fortune by daring to brave the rapids near Niagara Falls while floating in barrels—being very careful not to go over. However, it was a destitute, widowed, female school teacher who took the ultimate plunge: on 24 October 1901 Annie Edson Taylor became the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Although suffering a scalp wound and some bruises, she survived her daring feat without any broken bones—but, as noted in the newspaper article below, she was “somewhat hysterical” after taking her plunge. And little wonder!
Taylor claimed to be in her 40s, but her historic adventure actually occurred on her 63rd birthday. In front of a mocking crowd she went over the falls in a large pickle barrel, using cushions for padding. The press reported her astonishing feat, and she went on a speaking tour to capitalize on her sudden fame. Sadly, that fame proved fleeting and no fortune rewarded her efforts; she died poor at the age of 82 on 29 April 1921 at the Niagara County Infirmary.
The old newspaper article reported:
“Niagara Falls, N.Y., Oct. 24.—Mrs. Annie Edson Taylor, 50 years old, went over Niagara Falls on the Canadian side this afternoon and survived, a feat never before accomplished and, indeed, never attempted except in the deliberate commission of suicide. She made the trip in a barrel. Not only did she survive, but she escaped without a broken bone, her only apparent injuries being a scalp wound one and one-half inches long, a slight concussion of the brain, slight shock to her nervous system and bruises about the body. She was conscious when taken out of the barrel. The doctors in attendance upon her tonight said that, though she was somewhat hysterical, her condition is not at all serious and that she probably will be out of bed within a few days.
To the Abyss and Over
“Mrs. Taylor’s trip covered a mile ride through the Canadian rapids before she reached the brink of the precipice. Her barrel, stanch as a barrel could be made, was twirled and tossed and buffeted through those delirious waters but escaped serious contact with rocks. As it passed through the smoother, swifter waters that rushed over into the abyss it rode in an almost perpendicular position with its upper half out of the water. As it passed over the brink it rode at an angle of about 45 degrees on the outer surface of the deluge and descended as gracefully as a barrel can descend to the white foaming waters 158 feet below. True to her calculations, the anvil fastened to the bottom of the barrel kept it foot downward, and so it landed. Had it turned over and landed on its head, Mrs. Taylor’s head must have been crushed in and her neck broken.
After the Drop
“The ride through the rapids occupied 18 minutes. It was 4:23 o’clock when the barrel took its leap. It could not be seen as it struck the water below, because of the spray, but in less than half a minute after it passed over the brink it was seen on the surface of the scum-covered water below the falls. It was carried swiftly down to the green water beyond the scum, then half-way to the Maid of the Mist Landing. It was caught in what is known as the Maid of the Mist Eddy and held there until it floated so close to the shore that it was reached by means of a pole and hook and drawn in upon the rocks, at 4:40 o’clock or 17 minutes after it shot the cataract.
“Ten minutes later the woman was lifted from the barrel, and half an hour later she lay on a cot on First Street, in Niagara Falls, on the American side.
“She thanked God she was alive, thanked all who had helped her in any way, said she would never do it again, but that she was not sorry she had done it, ‘if it would help her financially.’
Few Moments Unconscious
“She said she had prayed all during the trip except during ‘a few moments’ of unconsciousness just after her descent. The barrel in which Mrs. Taylor made the journey is 4½ feet high and about 3 feet in diameter. A leather harness and cushions inside protected her body. Air was secured through a rubber tube connected with a small opening near the top of the barrel.
“Mrs. Taylor is a school teacher and recently came here from Bay City, Mich.”
To date she is the first and only woman to ever go down Niagara Falls in a barrel.
Note: An online collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is not only a great way to learn about the lives of your ancestors – the old newspaper articles also help you understand American history and the times your ancestors lived in, and the news they talked about and read in their local papers. Did one of your female ancestors accomplish a remarkable feat that made the news? Please share your stories with us in the comments section.