Over the falls…..

There have been many people that have dared Niagara falls.  Some went over and survived, many did not.  Here are some of the first to go over, they all made it.


Carlisle Graham

On Sunday, July11th, 1886 Graham Carlisle, a barrel maker from Philadelphia became the first person ever to shoot the Great Gorge Rapids in a barrel. Capt. Joel Robinson had already piloted the Maid of the Mist from it’s landing below the Horseshoe Falls to Queenston in 1861. Carlisle Graham would make his trip in a five and a half foot barrel of oaken staves and handmade iron hoops. Graham, being six feet tall was forced to stoop over once inside to allow the water-tight lid to be secured into place. With the exception of his arms Graham was encased in waterproof sheeting. Metal handles would allow him to grip the barrel. Carlisle Graham’s trip took 30 minutes. When rescued Mr. Graham was unhurt but he had become extremely ill and dizzy from the trip.

Queen of The Mist

Queen of The Mist

This is Annie Edson Taylor, she was the first to go over the falls. A brief account of the aftermath:

The barrel was half filled with water and she had a cut 3 inches long back of her right ear. Her shoulders are strained and she suffered severely from shock.

As the doctors worked over her she said to a correspondent:

“I felt as though I was being knocked pieces in churned all over; that all nature was being annihilated. I thought of trying not to break my neck. I caught on to the side straps. After the men sent me a drift I closed my eyes and prayed God to spare my life. I struck rocks three times and the water seemed to come in the barrel everywhere. I knew when I went over the fall, and lost my senses just a minute. I am not a sporting woman. I have always lived a good life, and am not afraid to face God or man if it was with my dying breath I would warn anybody not to do it. I felt like I was all alone. People here have been good to me and I did this to help those who helped me. I hope some good will come of it. I would rather face a cannon knowing that I would be blown to pieces, then go over the falls again. I feel that I want to offer a prayer to God for sparing my life”.

On Monday October 21st 1901, Mrs. Annie Edson Taylor shot the Horseshoe Falls this afternoon and survived,

On Monday October 21st 1901, Mrs. Annie Edson Taylor shot the Horseshoe Falls this afternoon and survived,

Her story is amazing and can be found in much greater detail here: http://www.niagarafrontier.com/devil_frame.html#TAYLOR

Annie Edson Taylor

Annie Edson Taylor

French tightrope walker Jean Francois Gravelet crossing the Niagra Falls in the 1800s.

French tightrope walker Jean Francois Gravelet crossing the Niagra Falls in the 1800s.

The most famous of Niagara’s daredevils was Jean Francois Gravelot, better know as “The Great Blondin”. He was born February 28th 1824 in St. Omer, Pas de Calais in Northern France.

Blondin first came to Niagara in early 1858. He became obsessed with crossing the Niagara River on a tightrope. On June 30th 1859, Blondin successfully walked across the river on a tight rope. For this crossing , Blondin utilized a 1,100 foot long – 3 inch diameter manila rope stretched from what is now Prospect Park in Niagara Falls, New York to what is now Oakes Garden in Niagara Falls, Ontario. He began his first walk from the American side and completed his crossing in 20 minutes. Blondin used a thirty (30) foot (9m) long balancing pole that weighed 40 pounds.


During the summer of 1859, Blondin completed eight more crossing times. His most difficult crossing occurred on August 14th when he carried his manager Harry Colcord on his back. During the summer of 1860, Blondin returned to Niagara for a second successful year of tight rope walking across the Niagara River for hundreds of thousands of sightseers. One of his acts included pushing a wheelbarrow along as he crossed.


The Man who challenged Niagara, WON and later died as a result of slipping on an orange peel!

Bobby Leech, after the plunge over Niagara Falls - 1911

Bobby Leech, after the plunge over Niagara Falls – 1911

Bobby Leach had a reputation in England as a circus stuntman. He had attracted attention to himself by announcing the intention of becoming the first person to complete the “triple challenge”. This included:

1.) making a barrel trip through the rapids to the whirlpool,

2.) going over the Falls in a barrel, and

3.) parachuting from the Upper Suspension Bridge into the  river upstream of the rapids.

On July 1st 1908, Leach jumped off the Upper Steel Arch Bridge using a parachute to become the fourth (4th) person to do so.


During the summer of 1910, Leach returned to Niagara Falls to test his barrel. He attempted to ride the barrel through the Great Gorge Rapids to the Whirlpool. Leach had attached an anchor to his barrel but it was cut loose by rocks. Leach’s barrel bounced from rock to rock through the rapids before becoming stuck in an eddy in the Whirlpool. Leach was rescued by William “Red” Hill Sr.. Hill had to risk his life by swimming out to Leach’s barrel and dragging it into shore. Leach was removed from the barrel unconscious. Hill Sr. climbed into the barrel and rode it through the lower rapids to Queenston. During that summer, Leach made three (3) other successful trips through the famous Whirlpool Rapids.

In addition, Bobby Leach made two aborted attempts to swim across the Niagara River down river from the American Falls.

On the afternoon of July 25th 1911, Bobby Leach climbed into an eight foot long steel drum at Navy Island where the current of the Niagara River veers towards the Canadian shore. The drum was released at 2:55 p.m.. It took eighteen minutes to reach the brink of the Horseshoe Falls before going over. It took 22 minutes to recover the drum. It had become stuck in the river at the base of the falls before Fred Bender (an Ontario Power Company employee) tied a rope around his waist and swam to where the barrel was. Bender tied a rope to the barrel and it was hauled to the Canadian shore. Leach was removed from the drum and rushed to the hospital suffering from two broken knee caps and a broken jaw.

Twenty three weeks later, Bobby Leach left the hospital and went on tour with his barrel throughout North America and Europe. Leach did return to Niagara Falls to parachute from an airplane.

On July 1st 1920, Bobby Leach jumped using  a parachute from an airplane. He repeated this feat again on October 10th 1925. In both cases Leach landed in corn fields on Canadian soil near the Niagara Gorge. Records are vague as to his parachute jump.

While in Niagara Falls, Bobby Leach purchased and operated a restaurant.

In April of 1926, Bobby Leach died at the age of 70 years in Christchurch, New Zealand as a result of an accidental slip on an orange peel while on his daily walk. His fractured leg had become infected and was amputated. Two months later he died in hospital.

There are a lot of men and women who challenged the falls over the past century and a half.  you can find a full and comprehensive list here: http://www.niagarafrontier.com/ (most of my material came from here)

Some would call them foolish, some would call them courageous, I think it takes a certain amount of moxie to pull off any of these stunts.  Please do drop in and let me know your favorites 🙂

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18 thoughts on “Over the falls…..

  1. When Annie said, “I am not a sporting woman”, she wasn’t kidding. They put her at 63 years old and weighing 160ils! WOW
    To me, the hardest thing about her trip over the falls would have been the 30 minutes it took, once launched in the river to reach the falls. That is a LONG time!

  2. Annie Edson Taylor and Carlisle Graham both reside at Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls, NY. Capt. Joel Robinson, is buried here as well. Another “Daredevil” in our Stunters Section is Capt. Matthew Webb. He was the first person to swim the English Channel unaided. He tried to swim the rapids that Carlisle ran in his barrel. World renown swimmer Matthew Webb swam his last and is now buried next to Annie and Carlisle.

  3. Niagara Falls is my home town. Born and raised there we grow up with these stories as part of our lives. It is fun to see them here. I will post this on our historical site so my fellow NF people can see it.

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