In the 1820s, when War of 1812 fighting had ceased in the Niagara Falls region, local
hotel owners wanted to revive tourism. The Niagara Falls had once made popular tourist
destinations of two cities along the international border: Niagara Falls in Ontario,
Canada, and Niagara Falls in New York, USA. To attract attention, the hotel owners
sponsored the first daredevil Niagara Falls stunt on record: they sent a defunct ship over
Niagaras Horseshoe Falls.
The hoteliers stunt drew a crowd indeed. On September 8, 1827, about 10,000 people
gathered to watch the condemned schooner be swept over the waterfall. The ship crashed
173 feet down to a whirlpool gorge below.
Within two years, daredevils were risking their own lives in Niagara Falls stunts. In
October of 1829, a man named Sam Patch dubbed himself The Yankee Leaper. He
survived a long, deliberate fall into the gorge at the bottom of the waterfall. People also
swam across or tried to sail. In 1886 a man named Carlisle Graham was the first to fall
down Niagara Falls in a barrel. Many people, including women in petticoats, imitated this
stunt. For example, in 1901 a 63-year-old schoolteacher named Annie Taylor rode a
barrel over the edge.
Some people tried crossing over Niagara Falls instead of riding its force downward.
Tightrope walkers like French acrobat Jean Franois “Blondin” Gravelet strung wires
across the gorge and traversed it before giant crowds of onlookers. In 1859 Gravelet
crossed the water blindfolded, in a sack, pushing a wheelbarrow, and carrying a man on
his back! He even succeeded tightrope walking while on stilts. Most famously perhaps,
Gravelet sat down midway across a wire to cook and eat an omelet.
Despite stories of successful crossings, many people have died or been seriously injured
in daredevil stunts at Niagara Falls. When Annie Taylor emerged from her barrel, she
warned, No one should ever try that again! Such stunts are now forbidden by law in
both cities of Niagara Falls. After Kirk Jones jumped the Falls in 2003 (and was released
from hospital), he was arrested for Mischief and Performing a Stunt.
Until the winter of 1912, anyone was permitted to cross an ice bridge that formed across
Niagara Falls. The water froze into ice blocks as thick as 50 feet, and the Niagara River
became a popular sledding destination. People even erected shacks on the ice and sold
liquor! However, a tragedy involving cracked ice put an end to the winter tradition.
Horseshoe Falls is the highest section of Niagara Falls and is in Canadian territory. The
American Falls on the US side drop about 70 feet into rock. These two main sections of
the waterfall are divided by the uninhabited Goat Island. (The goats were gone by 1780.)
A third section on the American side is called Bridal Veil Falls (earlier called Luna Falls
and Iris Falls). Its separated from the American Falls by tiny Luna Island.
These waterfalls are the most powerful in North America. An average of 4 million cubic
feet of water rush over Niagara Falls every minute. The flow is higher in spring and
summer when ice melts and more rain falls. Most of the water flows over Horseshoe
Falls, and the remainder is harnessed for hydroelectric power by the Sir Adam Beck
Station in Ontario and the New York State Power Authority.
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