On October 24, 1901, a wooden barrel four and a half feet tall bobbed up and down as it floated in the Niagra River, heading towards the Niagra Falls. Inside, celebrating her 63rd birthday, was a schoolteacher from Bay City, Michigan.
She was preparing to take the plunge and become the first person to ever go over the Falls in a barrel.
Annie Edson Taylor’s decision to undertake this perilous journey was motivated by financial woes and a desire for fame. The Pan American Exposition was taking place in Buffalo, New York and Ms. Taylor felt she would be able to attract a huge crowd. She believed her stunt would secure her a comfortable retirement, and she hoped to leave a lasting legacy. In preparation for the adventure, she designed a sturdy, custom-made barrel equipped with cushions to soften the impact of the fall.
Atlas Obscura writes, “The vessel Taylor chose to ride over the raging falls in was a custom-made pickle barrel of her own design that stood around five feet tall, and a little over three feet wide, weighing only 160 pounds. It was a simple construction that was made of white oak slats held together with iron rings. Inside the thing was a mattress for cushioning, and a leather harness to keep Taylor from bouncing around too much. A 200-pound anvil was also placed in the bottom of the container as a ballast to keep it as upright as possible while it bobbed its way over the falls.
She did not go over the falls without testing out her device either. Two days before taking the plunge herself, Taylor sent her housecat over the falls in her barrel. The cat survived the fall, with nothing but some cuts on the head, and Taylor took possibly her most famous photo with the feline sitting atop the barrel, looking surprisingly calm for a test animal that was almost drowned and/or smashed.
Despite Taylor’s successful test, many of the people she had enlisted to help with the stunt were skeptical. Her manager, Frank M. “Tussy” Russell, was warned that if took part in the spectacle, and Taylor died, he could be prosecuted for manslaughter in both America and Canada. Even on the day of the event, the actual barrel float was delayed a number of times due to fears from the crew that they were assisting in Taylor’s suicide.”
On that fateful day, Annie Edson Taylor, accompanied by her cat, aptly named “Miss Annie Edson Taylor,” was sealed inside the barrel, and the contraption was set adrift above Niagara Falls. The powerful current carried her over the edge of the falls, subjecting her to a harrowing 170-foot drop. The barrel endured the intense force of the falls and reached the bottom relatively intact. Miraculously, Annie survived, albeit shaken and bruised.
Annie Edson Taylor’s remarkable achievement catapulted her to instant celebrity status. Her story became a sensation in newspapers and media across the country, making her a symbol of fearless determination and resilience. Although it did not lead to the riches she hoped for, her daring feat did etch her name in history as the first person to go over Niagara Falls and survive.
Happy Birthday, Annie.