Stranger Than Fiction: Challengers of the Falls

Annie Taylor the first person to go over Niagara falls in a barrel

Annie Taylor the first person to go over Niagara falls in a barrel

Niagara Falls has long been the inspiration of lovers, filmmakers, authors, artists, musicians and travelers who marvel at the beauty and majesty of the falls. The falls are among the largest in the world and without a doubt, the most breathtaking and alluring.

The voluminous falls span the border between New York and the Canadian province of Ontario. With a dizzying height of 173 feet and a width of 2,600 feet, more than 100,000 cubic feet of water flow over the falls each second, during the peak summer months, into the Niagara River.

The roar and beauty of the falls has served as an inspiration to many and a challenge to others who dare risk certain death in a quest to challenge and conquer the mighty falls. Some have been successful others have perished in their haphazard attempts to gain immortality or simply to conquer one of nature’s most beautiful attractions.

Perhaps the two most famous daredevils were Annie Taylor and Charles Stephens.

On October 24, 1901, 63-year-old Michigan school teacher, Annie Edson Taylor, became the first person to go over the falls in a barrel. She was hoping to achieve fame and fortune for her death defying feat. She survived the plunge and emerged from the barrel bleeding with only minor injuries.

She later commented, “No one should ever try that again.”

Though her stunt was successful, her quest for fame and fortune was a dismal failure. She later died in poverty.

Since Taylor’s historic ride, 14 other people have intentionally gone over the falls in or on a device, despite her advice. Some have survived unharmed, but others have drowned or been severely injured. Survivors of such stunts face charges and stiff fines, as it is illegal, on both sides of the border, to attempt to go over the falls.

Perhaps the most tragic of these daredevils was Englishman Charles Stephens. On July 11, 1920, Stephens equipped a barrel with a handle which he tied his wrist to. He then put an anvil in the bottom of the barrel and tied his feet to it to ensure he would land feet first.

The barrel plunged over the falls and submerged briefly in the rolling churning tidewaters below. The barrel then shot up from the water like a cork. A rescue boat rowed toward the daredevil and crew members of the boat immediately noticed the water turning crimson red.

The crew reached the barrel and while pulling it into the boat they noticed it was light weight. They then noticed the bottom of the barrel was missing. Inside the barrel was Stephens’ arm still tethered to the handle. The force of the fall and the weight of the anvil had pulled Stephens through the bottom of the barrel tearing off his arm. His one-armed body was never recovered and is probably still tethered to the anvil at the bottom of the river.

Michael Williams has written a book entitled “Stranger than Fiction: The Lincoln Curse.” The book is a collection of 50 strange and unusual but true stories. The stories will leave the reader convinced that perhaps Mark Twain was right when he said “truth is stranger than fiction.”

The book is 187 pages in a softbound edition with numerous photos. The book can be purchased from for $19.95 plus shipping and handling or you can save shipping cost and save $2 on the purchase price by ordering a signed copy directly from the author. Send $17.95 to P.O. Box 6421 Sevierville, TN. 37864.

The book is available in Kindle on for $3.99. For more information visit the website

Source: Michael Williams, Author of Stranger Than Fiction