What to do when life’s got you over a barrel
Niagara Falls is the collective name used to refer not just to one, but three waterfalls grouped on the Niagara River which separates the Canadian province of Ontario and the American state of New York. Horseshoe Falls is the most popular of the three and the one most people refer to when talking about Niagara. Although it is an area of stunning natural beauty, this still isn’t enough for some people. They see it as an opportunity for adventure and excitement so they jump over the waterfall. This might sound insane (and it totally is) but it is possible to survive this jump (sometimes) and end up with a great story.
Unfortunately, to this day, Niagara Falls is a popular suicide spot. Here we are focusing on daredevils or just people who were really, really bored. They had every intention of surviving their trip – whether or not they succeeded is another story.
1. Sam Patch
Although he didn’t technically go over the falls, he did make (and survive) the jump. Sam Patch, known as the “Yankee Leaper”, was a famed 19th century daredevil. His specialty was jumping into rivers from great distances. That is what he did at Niagara. Although he didn’t go over the waterfall, he did jump into the base of the river from an elevated 125-ft platform.
Back then the falls weren’t that big with tourists. Patch’s exploits were a publicity stunt designed to attract more attention to Niagara Falls. In that sense, it was a resounding success – the jump took place in 1829 and now, almost 200 years later, people are still imitating him. However, right then and there, it was considered to be a bit of a disappointment. His arrival was delayed and the jump was accompanied by very bad weather. As a result, very few people actually turned up to see Patch jump. To make up for this, the Yankee Leaper actually made a second jump just a few days later. This time, a crowd of 10,000 people cheered him on.
2. Annie Edson Taylor
The honor of the first person to truly go over Niagara Falls goes to Annie Edson Taylor who went over the falls in a barrel in October 24, 1901. She was 63 years old when she did it but, surprisingly, she made it out with a few scrapes and bruises, but mostly unharmed. A lot of the credit had to go to the sturdy barrel she used. Apparently, its durability was tested beforehand by launching it over the falls with a cat inside to see if it makes it. The good news is that the cat did, in fact, survive. We’re assuming that’s it in the photo.
Taylor’s motivation for this feat was simply financial. She saw it as a good way to earn a profitable reputation. However, she wasn’t paid or sponsored for the actual jump. In fact, at the time, she was finding it difficult to get anyone to assist her since most people were convinced it would be suicidal.
However, Taylor did make it in one piece and gained quite a bit of notoriety just like she suspected, but the whole thing turned out to be far less profitable than she expected. In the end, Taylor cautioned that nobody else should ever attempt what she did but her warning turned out to be in vain.
3. Bobby Leach
On July 25, 1911, Bobby Leach became the second person (and first man) to go over the falls on purpose. Like Annie Taylor, he used a special barrel but, unlike her, Leach didn’t walk away completely unscathed. He had to spend the next six months recovering in hospital after sustaining numerous fractures and breaking both his knee caps.
Despite his injuries, Leach’s jump was far more lucrative. Even before this, he had quite a reputation as a stunt performer and even worked with the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Being accustomed to the world of showbiz, he was more adept at finding ways of profiting from his exploits. He even turned his adventure into a successful vaudeville show that toured through the United States, Canada and England.
4. William “Red” Hill Jr.
The Hill family had a complicated relationship with Niagara Falls. The father, William “Red” Hill Sr., was a local legend and a hero. He grew up in those parts and was intimately familiar with the area and the Niagara River. Later on in life, he would put his knowledge to good use by becoming a rescuer who would brave the dangerous rapids in order to save stranded people.
His rescue efforts saved the lives of 28 people. He was also the one who saved Bobby Leach after his jump when he became trapped in a barrel flowing into the rapids. At the same time, his work was a dark reminder of how dangerous Niagara Falls can truly be. He helped recover the bodies of over 170 people who either jumped or fell into the river.
Not surprisingly, his love for Niagara passed on to his son, William “Red” Hill Jr. He would travel the rapids of the river, just like his dad used to do but, ultimately, he decided to take the plunge, literally and figuratively. Actually jumping over Horseshoe Falls was something that Hill Sr. never attempted, but his son wanted to do it in order to raise funds to build a memorial for his father. He constructed his own device called “The Thing” which was made out of numerous inflated inner tubes tied together. Unfortunately, his complicated design made out of multiple components turned out to be a grave mistake. On August 5, 1951, William “Red” Hill Jr. went over the falls, but “The Thing” broke up on impact. His body wasn’t recovered until the next morning.
5. Steve Trotter
Jumping the Falls is still practiced to this day. Ok, it’s a lot rarer. Security is tight nowadays and, even if you do jump and survive, you still have a hefty fine waiting for you. In 2003, for his attempt Kirk Jones was not only fined, but also banned from Canada.
However, after so many people have done it, it’s hard not to get a bit bored even with something as insane as jumping over a waterfall. That is what makes Steve Trotter’s exploits all that more impressive. He first jumped in a barrel on August 18, 1985. He made it out ok and subsequently became the youngest person ever to make the jump at 22 years old. He became a minor celebrity who appeared on talk shows, in magazines etc. He enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame.
Ten years later, in 1995, Trotter decided to make headlines again by becoming the first person to ever successfully complete two jumps in a barrel. He did this on June 18 when he again managed to survive the jump with minimal injuries. This time, he set another record for the first tandem jump – he somehow convinced his girlfriend to join him.