Annie the Brave

Our good friend Canadian Historian Patrick Sirianni wrote this little article for his Facebook Page October 21, 2014.  Catch up with Partrick and all the history of our area at the FB group Niagara History and Trivia

by Patrick Sirianni

"For two years I have been constantly studying, when not occupied in teaching, what I could do to make money- to make it honestly and quickly. All kinds of schemes ran riot through my brain. Reading the New York paper about people going to the Pan-American exposition, and from there to Niagara Falls, the idea came to me like a flash of light. Go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. No one has ever accomplished this feat".---Annie Edson Taylor.

Annie Taylor was once on a stage coach held up by Jessie James gang. She had almost a thousand dollars hidden in her dress hem that went undetected and did not have to give it up.

She made two attempts at going over the Falls, in two consecutive days,the second one being successful.

I had the opportunity to spend an interesting afternoon at the library in Niagara Falls New York and research the story of Annie Taylor doing her Niagara Falls thing 113 years ago tomorrow.

We all know the "official story" of her bravely challenging the mighty Niagara and surviving with just minor injuries, but regardless of what was declared official, I had a few questions that I needed answered.

First and foremost on my mind is what was the weather like? Being late October, did she pull off this stunt in an early snow storm? Was it a beautiful "Indian summer" kind of day?. I found two weather reports for western New York for October 23rd and 24th. and it read like this" Fair tonight and Thursday, moderate temps.,somewhat cooler Thursday afternoon with brisk to high winds out of the southwest and becoming westerly Thursday evening. Brisk to high the south west not from behind the Falls and causes the upper river to flow a little deeper and perhaps a little quicker? This partially explains why her trip origionally scheduled for the afternoon of the 23rd. was cancelled after getting ready and out into the upper river. Upon reaching the area of Grass Island, the boat men she hired, namely, Robinson and Truesdale were having a hell of a time setting up to release the barrel, and purposely grounded the boat in a small inlet on Grass

Island. "Why don't you go on? Asked

Mrs. Taylor who was still in the barrel although the man-hole cover had not been yet adjusted. "We're afraid to take the chance" answered Robinson "If we get out into the river, the whole lot of us will go over the Falls". "We could never launch the barrel in this wind". Deciding to wait and see if the wind would die down, it got only stronger and the first attempt was aborted.

Mrs. Taylor stepped from the boat as a big crowd of people were lingering at various areas in and around the Falls waiting to see the barrel with its human cargo plunge over . A young man in Chippawa had seen the boat men put back to Port Day with the barrel, and he rode on the back of a trolley car on the Canadian side and reported that the trip had been abandoned. Word spread quickly and served to dismantle the crowd on the Canadian shore, but those patiently waiting on Goat and 3 Sisters Islands had no word as they waited and waited until dark, thus finally giving up hope of the barrel coming down the upper rapids and over the Falls.

The Next Day.

Leaving from Port Day at approximately 2pm in the afternoon, but not before spending the morning installing a harness on the inside of the barrel, and fixing a few last minute problems with the breathing apparatus.

Police officer Eagan commanded from shore for them to stop as they pulled away with the barrel in tow and was ignored, as Annie was hell bent on getting her barrel positioned in the Canadian current in the upper river.

One of her greatest fears in regards to her stunt, was not being able to get out of the water below the Falls and ending up in the Whirlpool via the rapids.

The Ride over the Falls

Two reports about a black cat were circulated at this time. One was that it went over the Falls with her, and another said that it went over the Falls in a trial run the day before. I don't believe either one. There was no mention in the press of a cat on either trip into the upper river. 

Air was pumped into her barrel with a bicycle pump just before her barrel was launched. The barrel in which Mrs, Taylor made the journey was 4 1/2 feet high and about 3 feet in diameter. A leather harness and cushions inside protected her body. Annie's trip covered a mile ride through the Canadian rapids before she reached the brink of the precipice. Her barrel, staunch as a barrel could be made, was twirled and buffeted through those delirious waters, but escaped without any serious contact with rocks.

As it passed through the smoother, swifter waters that rushed over the abyss, it rode in an almost perpendicular position, with its upper half out of the water.

Once passing over the brink, it rode at an angle ot about 45 degrees on the outer surface of the Horseshoe and descended gracefully to the white foaming waters, 158 feet below the brink.

Due to her calculations, the anvil fasten to the bottom of the barrel kept its foot downward, and so it landed. Had it turned over and landed on its head, Mrs. Taylor's head may have been crushed in and her neck broken. Awaiting on the Canadian shore to rescue her were Carlisle Graham of Whirlpool fame, Kid Bailey an expert swimmer, Harry Williams proprietor of the Lafayette Hotel, and Engineer John Ross of the Maid of the Mist.


After effects

Annie Taylor suffered no broken bones from her voyage, however for her efforts complained about having very sore shoulders, neck and a severe gash on her scalp.

While in bed recovering from her ordeal, the doctor was afraid to allow Annie any visitors as he felt that she possibly could be suffering from what was referred to as "Brain Fever".

While resting comfortably after the ordeal, Annie received a letter offering a proposal of marriage for somebody and it was never revealed whom it was. She turned him down.

After quickly recovering from her ordeal, She was invited to, and attended, the last day of the Pan American exposition in NYC, displaying her barrel with her black cat.

Martha Wagenfuhrer played down Annie Taylors trip over the Falls and was quoted in the Niagara Falls Gazette " This woman, Mrs. Taylor I see by the papers went over the Horseshoe Falls. Now everybody knows that there aint much in in going over the Horseshoe Falls. They aint very dangerous. Of course no one could go over Niagara Falls, the real Falls are 270ft, high and its most likely that if anyone went over in a barrel, the barrel is going clean to the bottom and never coming up, or else be smashed to pieces. Mrs. Taylor never went through the whirlpool like I did, and everybody knows that's the worst trip there is. I'm the second one who has gone through the whirlpool and lived to tell the story."

Niagara Falls, June 14-—Tomorrow. Mrs. Annie Edson Taylor will open a fancy goods and souvenir stand in front of Mrs. Davy's store near the State Reservation. Mrs. Taylor is the woman who has to her credit the feat of going over the Horseshoe Fall of Niagara successfully. This wonderful trip was made on October 24, 1901, and Mrs. Taylor, after a varied and unfortunate experience, has returned to the scene of her greatest deed in the hope that she may earn an honest living. All who know her feel that she is a wonderful woman. At her stand she will sell little barrels, photos of herself, and small books descriptive of the remarkable feat she performed. She will be within sound of the mighty cataract she conquered; and she should become one of the wonders of Niagara.

The Sad End.

March 20th. 1921- Mrs. Annie Edson Taylor, the only woman who ever went over the Horseshoe Fall at Niagara and survived and the first person to successfully "shoot the falls" in a barrel" is now an inmate of the Niagara County Infirmary at Lockport. She attributes her present ill health and approaching blindness to her terrible experience in plunging over the great cataract on October 21st, 1901. When taken from the barrel she was semi-conscious and her clothes were covered with blood from cuts on her head. She expected to become very wealthy as a result of her spectacular feat, but realised little pecuniary benefit. It Is said one of the managers engaged by her, secured her barrel and traveled over the country with a younger and more attractive woman whom he exhibited as the heroine, of the Falls.

May 5th. 1921-Funeral services for Mrs. Annie Edson Taylor, who died Saturday at the Niagara County Infirmary was held this afternoon at 2 0'Clock in the Dykstra funeral chapel on Main St., at Michigan Ave. The Rev. David H. Weeks of the Episcopal Church officiated.

Burial will be in a plot donated by the Oakwood Cemetery trustees near wehre are buried many other men and women who won notoriety by daredevil stunts at Niagara.

Annie, though she was badly battered, was triumphant, and she was looking forward to once again enjoying the finer amenities of life, that her fame was sure to bring. But, she lingered for the rest of her life as an impoverished victor. However, unlike many who died wealthy, and whose names have faded away not long after their passiing, Annie will never be forgotten by history, because she is among those rare individuals who were the first do something very significant, that so many others had failed at doing, until she came along.

Annie Edson Taylor

In the fall of 1901 Annie Edson Taylor took a trip that she thought would bring her fame and fortune.  On her 63rd birthday the former school teacher climbed into a barrel.  The hatch was closed and the barrel was set adrift above Niagara Horseshoe Falls.  She began a voyage that day that only a handful of people over the last century would live to tell about. 

She began her life in Auburn, NY and grew up with a comfortable lifestyle.  Although her father passed away when Annie was 12, his inheritance left them in a style the family was accustomed to.  At 17 Annie met David Taylor, and after a short courtship they were married.  A baby followed but passed away within days of being born.  At 25 she became a widow after David was wounded in the Civil War. After a stint in San Antonio, Texas as a school teacher, she decided to move back to New York State where she became a dance instructor.  She liked the finer things, and as her parent's inheritance began to run out she became more desperate to make ends meet.  The thought of living a life with less than finer things literally "drove her to the brink".

The New York Times, October 25, 1901



She Is Alive, but Suffering Greatly from Shock


Plunges from the Horseshoe Cataract -- 

-- Thousands View the Attempt -- 

"Don't Try It,” She Advises Others. 


Special to the New York Times.

NIAGARA FALLS, N. Y., Oct. 24. -- A widowed woman, Mrs. Anna Edson Taylor, safely passed over Niagara Falls in a barrel this afternoon. The trip from end to end was witnessed by several thousand people. The fact that Mrs. Taylor failed to go on Wednesday did not lessen the confidence of the public in her. Still everybody was agreed that it was a foolhardy trip.

It was beyond any conception but her own that she would live to tell the story. But she is alive to-night, and the doctors say as soon as she gets over the shock she will be all right.

This initial voyage over Niagara's cataract began at Port Day, nearly a mile from the brink of the Falls. From Port Day Mrs. Taylor and her barrel were taken out to Grass Island, where she entered the barrel, and at 3:50 she was in tow of a boat speeding well out into the Canadian current. At 4:05 the barrel was set adrift, and Mrs. Taylor was at the mercy of currents in waters that never before have been know to spare a human life once in its grasp.

From the spot where the rowboat left the barrel the current runs frightfully swift and soon breaks over the reefs that cause the water to toss in fury. The barrel was weighted with 200-pound anvil, and it floated nicely in the water, Mrs. Taylor apparently retaining an upright position for the greater part of the trip down the river and through the rapids.

Fortunately the barrel kept well within the deep water, and except for passing out of sight several times, in the white-crested waves, it was in view for the greater part of the mile. In passing over the Horse Shoe Fall the barrel kept toward the Canadian side at a point 300 feet from the centre.

It dropped over the fall at 4:23 o'clock, the bottom well down. In less than a minute it appeared at the base of the fall, and was swept down stream. The current cast it aside in an eddy, and, floating back up stream, it was held between two eddies until captured at 4:40 o'clock.

As it was landed on a rock out in the river it was difficult to handle, but several men soon had the hatch off. Mrs. Taylor was alive and conscious, but before she could be taken out of the barrel it was necessary to saw a portion of the top away. Her condition was a surprise to all. She walked along the shore to a boat, and was taken down the river to the Maid of the Mist Dock, where she entered a carriage and was brought to this city.

She is suffering greatly from the shock. She has a three-inch cut in her scalp back of the the right ear, but how or when she got it she does not know. She complains of pain between the shoulders, but this is thought to be from the fact that her shoulders were thrown back during the plunge, as she had her arms in straps, and these undoubtedly save her nick from breaking.

In passing over the falls she admits having lost consciousness. While thanking God for sparing her life, she warns everybody against trying to make the trip. So severe was the shock that she wanders in her talk, but there is little doubt but that she will be in good condition within a day or two.

Three doctors are at her bedside to-night. Mrs. Taylor is forth-three years old. She wasborn in Auburn, N. Y., and has crossed the American Continent eight times. During her stay here she has impressed everybody with her wonderful nerve.

The barrel in which Mrs. Taylor made the jouney is 4 1/2 fee high and about 3 feet in diameter. A leather harness and cushions inside protected her body. Air was secured through a rubber tube connected with a small opening near the top of the barrel.

Mrs. Taylor is a school teacher and recently came her from Bay City, Mich. She was born in Auburn, N. Y., and is forty-three years old. She has cross the American Continent from ocean to ocean eight times. 

A fantastic rendition of Annie's story told by Radio National in Australia.  Their program is called Earshot.  Here is a link to the page this podcast came from.   

Perhaps Annie's vanity got the best of her when she knocked twenty years off her age.  

The trip over the Falls in a barrel never brought her the money she had hoped.  She died destitute in Lockport, NY April 29, 1921 at the Lockport Home and Infirmary. The Oakwood Cemetery Association donated a grave to honor her place in Niagara Falls history.  She is buried next to fellow riverman Carlisle D. Graham. Also in the same row is Captain Matthew Webb, first man to swim the English Channel, and Francis Abbott, "the Hermit of Goat Island".

To see Annie's marker, turn right after entering the gates from Portage Road.  Follow the road on the south side of the cemetery until you come to the first "Fork".  Annie is in the third row at the point of the "Fork".

Thanks to Wikipedia, and for information on Annie. 

Lot 441 "Stranger's Rest"