19th Century

Stupid, but kinda awesome

110 years ago someone did something stupid but kinda awesome.

Annie Edson Taylor climbed into a barrel and rolled it into the river above the Niagara falls, becoming the first person to survive the plunge.

Annie Edson Taylor and a replica of her barrel

To her credit, Annie didn’t risk death for thrills, glory, or some other silly reason.  Nope, Annie had struggled to financially after the death of her husband in the Civil War, and hoped that she could leverage her fame from the stunt into a reasonable income, and avoid the poorhouse.

Wait, what was that?  The Civil War you said?  Didn’t that end almost 40 years before Annie’s stunt?!?

Yep, the intrepid Annie was 63 when she risked life and limb in a wood and iron barrel lined with a mattress.

Pretty awesome!

Annie had already shown that she had quite a bit of gumption by the time she attempted to break history on the falls:  she worked as a teacher, set up a dance studio, and travelled as far as Mexico in search of work.

While brave, Annie’s stunt wasn’t stupid: she had done as much research as possible to ensure she would survive the trip.  A few weeks before her own attempt, she had even sent a cat in a barrel over the falls.  When the cat survived, Annie was ready to make her own attempt.

After her own 20 minute trip over the falls, and 40 minutes of waiting around in the barrel while her helpers tried to figure out how to get her out of it (which actually sounds almost as bad as the going over the falls part), she even posed with the unfortunate experimental cat.

Annie Edson Taylor and the cat that survived the falls

Unfortunately for Annie, she just had the worst financial luck.  Her manager ran off with the original barrel, and after a brief moment of fame, she survived by selling souvenirs to tourists to the Niagara falls.

And the trip itself?  It doesn’t sound like that was fun either.  This is what Annie said about it:

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


  1. Elise says

    My favorite part about her is when she called her ample skirts ‘abbreviated.’ Poor lady, I didn’t know the end of her story. I’d make some speech about how we need to support our social safety net, but that’s for other blogs. In the meantime, I support the enormous pluck of Annie, abbreviated skirts and all!

  2. I hope I’m still that sparky at 63. Sad story, but I really admire her gumption.

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