Was Annie Edson Taylor the 1st Person To Run Niagara Falls in a Barrel?

A tethered harness reportedly kept the 63-year-old schoolteacher secure.

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Annie Edson Taylor
Image via Public Domain

Claim

Annie Edson Taylor, a 63-year-old schoolteacher, became the first person to survive a plunge to the bottom of Niagara Falls when she went over in a wooden barrel in 1901.

Origin

Annie Edson Taylor is said to have become the first person to survive a plunge over Niagara Falls when she plummeted 158 feet to the “boiling cauldron below” in a 4-foot-tall wooden barrel made of Kentucky oak. 

As incredible as it sounds, it’s true. 

The 63-year-old schoolteacher made history on Oct. 24, 1901, when she went over the falls of her own accord in a barrel of her own design, forever writing her name into the history books as the first documented survivor of such a feat.

The following day, The New York Times published a description of the event that unfurled in front of several thousand people. 

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.

The barrel reportedly dropped over the falls at 4:23 p.m. and took less than a minute to make its way to the bottom. It wasn’t until 4:40 p.m. that two men retrieved the barrel from an eddy and sawed a portion of the top off to open it. 

Taylor helped to shore after going over the Niagara Horseshoe Falls. Public Domain

Despite having cushions inside the barrel and a tethered harness to keep her from rattling about, Taylor was reported to have been in shock when she emerged. She suffered a “three-inch cut in her scalp back of the right ear” (but didn’t know how she got it), experienced pain between her shoulders, and admitted to losing consciousness.

Of her antic, Taylor reportedly said, “don’t try it.” 

The event was described in a video shared to YouTube by Niagara Falls Museums. 

 
Unfortunately, the exploit did not bring Taylor the fame and money she had hoped for. She died destitute in April 1921 and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls, New York, in the same row as Captain Matthew Webb, the first man to swim the English Channel, according to the cemetery’s website.

A replica of the wooden barrel is available at the New York State Museum. More detail about Taylor’s life has been recorded in a podcast shared by The Buffalo History Museum.

Sources:

“Annie Edson Taylor.” Oakwood Cemetery | Niagara Falls, NY, https://oakwoodniagara.org/annie-edson-taylor. Accessed 11 Mar. 2022.

Development, PodBean. Annie Edson Taylor’s Barrel v. Niagara Falls. https://TheBuffaloHistoryMuseum.podbean.com/e/woman-idea-barrel-waterfall/. Accessed 11 Mar. 2022.

History@Home: Annie Edson Taylor. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMwg7yu4Dco. Accessed 11 Mar. 2022.

Niagara Falls Barrels | The New York State Museum. http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/exhibitions/windows/niagara-falls-barrels. Accessed 11 Mar. 2022.

“Old Front Page.” Oakwood Cemetery | Niagara Falls, NY, https://oakwoodniagara.org/old-front-page. Accessed 11 Mar. 2022.

Times, Special to The New York. “WOMAN GOES OVER NIAGARA IN A BARREL; She Is Alive, but Suffering Greatly from Shock. Plunges from the Horseshoe Cataract — Thousands View the Attempt- ‘Don’t Try It,’ She Advises Others.” The New York Times, 25 Oct. 1901. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/1901/10/25/archives/woman-goes-over-niagara-in-a-barrel-she-is-alive-but-suffering.html.