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Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Annie Edson Taylor - Daredevil Pensioner

October 24th 1901 would prove to be quite an eventful day for Annie Edson Taylor, as not only was it her 63rd birthday, but it would also be the day when she would be the first person ever to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

Born in 1838 in  Auburn, New York, Annie and her seven siblings enjoyed a comfortable upbringing as her father Merrick Edson owned a flourishing flour mill. Her father died when she was just twelve years old which left the family distraught but not penniless, as he had left a substantial amount of money, providing the family with financial security.

Annie was able to train as a teacher, during which time she met her husband, David Taylor. Several years after their marriage their son was born, but he died within a few days. David went to fight in the Civil War and was fatally wounded in 1864, leaving Annie a widow at the young age of twenty-five.

Annie's life changed dramatically. She spent the following years moving from one city to another in various teaching jobs, but as she tried to maintain the lifestyle that she'd grown accustomed to, her savings and wages soon dwindled as did the work and eventually she became desperate. Her future looked bleak with a strong possibility of spending the remainder of her life in a poorhouse.

In July 1901, Annie read in the New York World  that the Pan American Exposition was taking place in Buffalo, New York and that many people would also be flocking to see the nearby Niagara Falls. It was then that the idea of her daredevil stunt came to her. She would attempt to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, a feat that no one else had ever accomplished. She hoped that her daring plan would generate enough money to bring her financial security.

She found a company to design her barrel and enlisted Frank M. Russell, a successful promoter of carnivals and other events, to publicise her stunt. Newspaper reporters were keen to interview Annie and find out why a sixty-two year old woman would attempt such a dangerous stunt. She told one reporter, 'I might as well be dead as to remain in my present condition.' When asked if she was contemplating suicide, she replied, 'Not by any means, I am too good an Episcopalian to do such a thing as that...I entertain the utmost confidence that I shall succeed in going over the Falls without any harm resulting to me.'

Annie's custom built oak and iron barrel was 4 1/2 ft high and 3 ft in diameter and lined with cushions and straps to secure her inside. A rubber tube connected near the top of the barrel supplied Annie with air. As a test run she first sent the barrel over the Horse Shoe Falls with a cat inside. The cat survived the experiment and the barrel withstood the drop of  158ft. Annie was delighted and more determined to take the risk.


Annie with her barrel and cat.

Just after 4 p.m on October 24th, 1901, several thousand spectators gathered to watch Annie perform her daring stunt. She was secured inside the barrel and set adrift further upstream from the Falls. Weighted by a 200-pound anvil, the barrel floated along the river, through the rapids. The crowd gasped as the barrel tumbled over the brink and plunge into the deep water below. Hidden by the heavy mist, the onlookers waited anxiously for the barrel to appear. When it slowly came into view, the waiting rescue boat and crew retrieved the barrel and pulled it on to the rocks.

The lid was broken open and Annie raised her arm and waved her hand to let the onlookers know that she was still alive. Amazingly she emerged just dazed and shocked with only a cut behind her ear. However, she declared that she would 'rather face a cannon knowing I should be blown to pieces than do it again.'

Although Annie's stunt did bring her some financial relief, sadly it wasn't to last and she lived her final years in poverty until her death in 1921.

Image credit: Wikipedia.