Little Bits of History

Thar She Goes

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 24, 2014
Annie Edson Taylor and her barrell

Annie Edson Taylor and her barrell

October 24, 1901: Annie Edson Taylor celebrates her 63rd birthday. Annie Edson was born in Auburn, New York in 1838, one of eight children. Her father ran a successful flour mill and he died when Annie was 12 with the family able to live comfortably from his estate. Annie received an honors degree in a four-year training course and became a teacher. While in school, she met David Taylor and they were soon married. They had a son who died in infancy and just a short time later, David died too. Annie spent the rest of her life working odd jobs and moving around in the effort to support herself.

She eventually came to Bay City, Michigan and wanted to be a dance instructor. There were no dance schools so she opened one. In 1900 she moved to Sault Ste. Marie in order to teach music and then went to San Antonio, Texas and with a friend, went to Mexico City to find work. All these efforts were unsuccessful and so she returned to Bay City. Her need for income did not diminish and she desperately wished to stay out of the poorhouse. In order to make a splash and perhaps garner some income from tales of glory, she came up with a plan.

Annie had a special barrel constructed of oak and iron, it was padded with a mattress. She was going to go over Niagara Falls in the thing. She had difficulty in finding someone to help her launch the contraption as it was too dangerous and no one wished to align themselves with an apparent suicide. Two days before her own attempt, she placed a domestic cat in the barrel and sent it over the falls. The cat survived, albeit with a head wound. It had taken 17 minutes to retrieve the barrel and cat. Annie and the cat posed for a picture. On this day, the barrel was placed in the water on the American side near Goat Island. Annie climbed in bringing her lucky heart shaped pillow with her. The lid was screwed down and friends used a bicycle pump to compress the air in the barrel and then sealed the hole with a cork. Annie was set adrift.

The currents carried her away from the American side and over to the Canadian side and the Horseshoe Falls. She was plucked from the lower waters, relatively uninjured. She, too, had a small gash on her head. She was the first to survive going over the falls and after her trip, the Canadian side has been the site for all daredevil stunts. She was briefly famous and managed to make some money from appearances. Then her manager, Frank Russell, stole her barrel and most of her money and took off. The barrel was eventually found in Chicago and then it was lost completely. Annie’s final years were spent trying to earn enough money from her stunt to pay her bills. She died in 1921 at the age of 82 and is buried in the “Stunters Section” of Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls, New York.

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. – Annie Edson Taylor

I’m not only the best-known daredevil on the face of the earth, I’m the oldest. – Evel Knievel

I don’t see the risk, I enjoy performing stunts, and I don’t get scared. – Ajay Devgan

The ads all call me fearless, but that’s just publicity. Anyone who thinks I’m not scared out of my mind whenever I do one of my stunts is crazier than I am. – Jackie Chan

Nedelin Catastrophe – In 1960, a Soviet Union ICBM exploded on the launchpad.
Notre Dame – In 1260, the cathedral was dedicated.
Terror Along the Beltway – In 2002, the Beltway Sniper was arrested.
Earth – In 1946 the first picture of Earth from outer space was taken.

Tight Rope

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 30, 2013
Charles Blondin

Charles Blondin

June 30, 1859: Charles Blondin crosses Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Blondin was born in St. Omer, France in 1824. At the age of five, he was sent to École de Gymnase in Lyon by his gymnast father. After only six months of training, he made his first public appearance with the name “The Little Wonder.” His naturally graceful moves along with learned skills made him a favorite attraction. He also was said to have a charismatic personality, did everything in a grand way, and was a true showman.

Blondin’s showmanship abilities along with fearless daring led him to increasingly dangerous undertakings. By the age of 35, playing to international audiences, he crossed the Falls on a tightrope 3 inches thick, 1,100 feet long and 160 feet above the water. Once he had crossed the Falls, he needed to keep the audiences wowed and devised ever more bizarre crossings. He crossed blindfolded, in a sack, with a wheelbarrow, on stilts, carrying his manager – Harry Colcord – on his back, and stopping midway and sitting down to cook and eat an omelet.

Niagara Falls had already been used in a spectacular feat of daring or stupidity, depending on your viewpoint. Sam Patch in October 1829 jumped from a high tower into the gorge below the falls and survived. Captain Matthew Webb, the first man to swim the English Channel, drowned in 1883 along with two others as a group of men attempted to swim across the whirlpools and eddies downstream from the Falls. Seven others in the fateful group gave up before being killed by the swirling waters.

Going over the falls in a barrel is now illegal from both the US and Canadian side and heavily fined. However, in 1901, 63-year-old Annie Taylor was the first to survive going over the falls in a barrel which she did as a publicity stunt. Since then, 14 others have gone over the falls with or without a device and with or without surviving. On July 9, 1960, 7-year-old Roger Woodward was swept over the falls and was plucked from the waters at the bottom by the crew from the Maid of the Mist, a tour boat cruising under the falls. Roger’s 17-year-old sister had been pulled from the water just a few feet before she, too, would have been swept over the falls.

“No one should ever try that again.” – Annie Taylor, after going over Niagara Falls in a barrel

“In the beginning you must subject yourself to the influence of nature. You must be able to walk firmly on the ground before you start walking of a tightrope.” – Henri Matisse

“If you had a friend who was a tightrope walker, and you were walking down a sidewalk, and he fell, that would be completely unacceptable…” – Mitch Hedberg

“Actors say they do their own stunts for the integrity of the film but I did them because they looked like a lot of fun.” – Steve Coogan

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Niagara Falls is actually three different waterfalls straddling the border between Canada and the US. Ontario is on the Canadian side while New York is on the US side. The Horseshoe Falls is the largest of the three falls and are on the Canadian side. The American Falls are, appropriately, on the American side. The Bridal Veil Falls are also on the American side and separated from the larger falls by Luna Island. The Niagara River drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. The combined falls have the highest flow rate of any water fall in the world but there are other measurements to create a variety of biggest and best waterfalls. Horseshoe Falls is the most powerful waterfall in North America measure by both height (165 feet) and flow rate. The average flow rate shows more almost four million cubic feet of water going over the falls each minute with that reaching over six million cubic feet when the water is high.

Also on this day: What Was That? – In 1908, the Tunguska event occurs.
Brilliant – In 1905, Einstein published a paper.
Monkeying Around – In 1860, an Oxford debate on evolution is held.

Ice Jam

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 29, 2013
Niagara Falls stops running

Niagara Falls stops running

March 29, 1848: Niagara Falls stops running. The last glacial period began about 110,000 years ago and ended between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago. Glaciers advanced and retreated throughout the ice age. Ice sheets and glaciers covered a large part of the Northern Hemisphere and a smaller portion of the Southern Hemisphere. While most of Canada and the northern part of the US were covered with ice, Alaska was not due to  oceanic fluctuations in water movement. In Europe and Asia, the Scandinavian ice sheet crept over the north of Britain, Germany, Poland, and Russia.

As the Wisconsin glaciers retreated, they carved out the Great Lakes – a series of five Lakes acting as a border between Canada and the US. Lake Superior and Lake Michigan drain into Lake Huron which in turn runs into Lake Erie and on to Lake Ontario via the Niagara River. There are two major sections of the Niagara Falls separated by Goat Island sitting in the middle of the Niagara River. On the Canadian side of Goat Island are the spectacular Horseshoe Falls, the portion usually seen in pictures. On the American side are the American Falls and the smaller Bridal Falls.

The Falls are not particularly high with the Horseshoe Falls dropping 167 feet  and the American side crashing into crumbled boulders only 70 feet below. The Falls are wide. The American side is 1,060 feet at the brink and 150,000 gallons per second flows past. The Horseshoe Falls are 2,600 feet at the brink and drains 600,000 gallons per second. The tremendous power of the water rushing past on its way to Lake Ontario, and eventually to the Atlantic Ocean, has been harnessed on both sides. There are 3 hydroelectric plants with the Sir Adam Beck 1 and 2 on the Canadian side and the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant on the American side. They generate about 4.4 gigawatts of power.

The torrent of water doesn’t freeze in winter although ice can form reaching from either side of the river. If the ice meets in the middle, an ice bridge forms. Water can flow under these bridges. Mini-icebergs flow from the frozen shores of Lake Erie. These can impede the flow of water on the Niagara River. Only once in recorded history has Niagara Falls stopped. An ice jam up river caused the Falls to dry up for several hours. The Falls didn’t actually freeze over, there was just no water getting to them. People walked out on the riverbed looking for treasure.

“Fortissimo at last!” – Gustav Mahler (on seeing Niagara Falls)

“Niagara Falls! Slowly I turned … step by step … inch by inch …” – beginning of a vaudeville act

“No steam or gas ever drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. No life ever grows until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined.” – Joan Rivers

“I was disappointed in Niagara – most people must be disappointed in Niagara. Every American bride is taken there, and the sight of the stupendous waterfall must be one of the earliest, if not the keenest, disappointments in American married life.” – Oscar Wilde

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: The Niagara Escarpment is a long cuesta or geological sloping of the ground between Canada and the US. It runs, for the most part, east/west from New York State through Ontario, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois. It is along this route that Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario run to the falls. It is named for its most famous feature, the falls where Niagara River tumbles downward. While escarpments are often along fault lines, rock exposure and drillholes show that the line is not a fault line but came into existence due to unequal erosion. The limestone was less easily eroded than the shale and because of the two different rock structures and over millions of years, the escarpment came into being.

Also on this day: Rationing – In 1948, rationing of items increased to include more food products.
Vesta – In 1807, Vesta was discovered.
New Sweden – In 1638, the first Swedish colony was established in the New World.

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