WHY DID a 63 Year OLD Woman Go Over Niagara Falls in a Barrel
The first person to go over the Falls in a barrel was the 63 year old Annie Edson Taylor. In 1901 she made the decision to gamble with the Mighty Cataracts and for over one hundred years we are scratching our heads wondering what would possess a 63 year old woman to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
Image via Wikipedia
Annie Edson Taylor went over Niagara Falls in a barrel on October 24, 1901. I suppose somebody had to go first but one would hardly assume it would be a widowed aging school marm ‘type’. Attention and fame mongering stunts were not all that uncommon in this era. Stunters were already braving the Niagara Whirpool and Rapids with barrels, some successful and some not. It was a much bigger deal over 100 years ago.
Committing suicide by throwing yourself into the water above the Falls and waiting to be swept over was also vogue. Reporters of the time reported on it and the allure of the wonderfully written free obituary, really helped to make Niagara Falls a great choice for a lot of people that were contemplated the self inflicted premature end to their lives.
Annie Edson Taylor came up with a different idea. She would challenge the cataracts themselves with a barrel and try to survive. It truly was and still is a bizarre thought to creep into a 63 year old woman’s mind.
It is too bad that not a whole lot is known about Annie Taylor. Much of her story before she went over Niagara Falls in a barrell is garnered from her own writings. There has been speculation that some of her writings and statements have been embelished. What we do know is that she was married briefly and her husband was killed in the Civil War. She became a teacher and taught for a while but she was apparently restless and forever looking for that elusive fame and fortune in lands far away. She managed to travel overseas with a few gentlemen friends throughout her life and around the time of her fateful decision to go over the Falls in a barrel, she was grappling with the fact that she was getting a bit ‘long in the tooth’ for be a successful dancing instructor, her current gig.
Always thinking about the next big break, the stories of the daredevils in Niagara who were attempting the Niagara rapids, had allure to her. She planned her trip strategically. The Pan Am Games were in Buffalo that year and President McKlinley would be there. That was her first plan but when he got assassinated and that grabbed the local headlines, she put her trip off a few weeks until she was sure her news would grab headlines.
Just google a picture of Annie Edson Taylor and it’s clear that the first person to go over the Falls in a barrel was not a ‘model type’. She was portly and perhaps looking good for 63 years old, she make the business decision to tell people she was 42. Apparently she thought that this would be more important to the crowd than an old lady going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. This probably shot her dreams of finding a knight in shining armour after the stunt. She wasn’t even an attractive 63 year old and claiming she was 42 was enough to scare the men away. Sadly, in retrospect, if Annie Taylor had just learned to be comfortable in her own skin and her accomplishment with being the first human being to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and surivie, she may have actually found a suitor.
Annie didn’t go over the Falls in a barrel for the historic acclaim it would being. She went over the Falls for the attention and money it would bring after the fact. She didn’t realize any of it. She had no business plan in place in the event she did survive the plunge and she left much of her affairs to unscrupulous managers. Annie’s barrel was literally stolen and used in a theatre act somewhere in the United States. She retrieved it fo a short while but it disappeared again and was never referenced again. I’ve always wondered what happened to it. If it found its way into a private collector’s hands for some reason it has never surfaced. That leads me to think that it was eventually discarded or burnt as firewood.
One of Annie Taylor’s reasons to go over the Falls in a barrel was to avoid the poorhouse. Ironic that this is where she took her last breath. She passed away in 1921 in Lockport, New York in a poorhouse and is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls, NY.
So, that leaves the interesting and open question. Why did a 63 year old woman go over Niagara Falls in a barrel?
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