110 years ago today must have been quite a day at Niagara Falls. October 24, 1901 was the day Annie Edson Taylor had her date with destiny.
Yep, this was the day Annie became the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. And she survived.
I love telling this story. I included it in the story I wrote last month about great daredevil accomplishments at the falls. I also used to tell it every single day, on every single tour I conducted, when I was a tour guide in Niagara Falls.
It’s a great story. Not because she succeeded….because she failed even though she succeeded.
That’s right….Annie Edson Taylor did exactly what she wanted to do. She had a plan. She was going to be the first person to survive going over the falls in a barrel. She was going to be rich and famous.
The survival part worked out just fine. The rich and famous part….not so much.
Annie Edson Taylor proved you should be careful what you wish for. Because you just never know.
Annie was a widow. In fact, her husband was killed in the Civil War….so as you can guess, she was no spring chicken that day in 1901. In fact, it was her 63rd birthday. And if you’ve seen pictures of people from back then, you know 63 was a lot older then than it is now. These days, people skydive on their 100th birthday, they run marathons in their 80’s, and 60 is the new 40. Back then, 60 was the new 80. Annie was an old lady.
She was a retired school teacher. And she came up with this plan, so she’d be able to live the good life in her golden years. It worked out about as well as those retirees who invested with Bernie Madoff.
But on this date, the future was bright. Annie got into her barrel, along with her lucky pillow, and off she went….through the upper rapids and over the Horseshoe Falls. When she was rescued at the base of the falls, she was a little banged up and bloody…..but in pretty good shape.
And that’s when her life went down the drain.
For a little while, Annie made a little money talking about her stunt. But people had trouble believing this matronly woman was the daredevil who defeated one of the wonders of the world.
The crowds dwindled.
Then her manager took off with her barrel.
Then a young woman went on tour, pretending to be Annie….and more people believed her.
Annie Edson Taylor died at the age of 82, penniless, in the Niagara County Infirmary. She’s buried in the “Stunter’s Section” of the Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls, NY.
But years after she died, something funny happened. Annie Edson Taylor really did become famous. Tour guides like me told her story to millions of people. She was written up in books. She was in documentaries. She's in an IMAX movie. There’s even an Off-Broadway show about her that opened just last week.
So even though it didn’t happen while she was alive to see it, Annie did become famous. She’s as big a part of the legend of Niagara Falls as anyone who ever lived.
So you never know.