DAREDEVILS OF NIAGARA FALLS
The History of Niagara Falls Greatest Daredevils
Daredevils can be best summarized as persons who wish to take conscious risks
with their lives with the emphasis on survival. However, some risks are so great
that the chances of survival based upon a balance of probabilities become so
little that they become suicidal in nature. It may be a thin line of definition
but a line none the less. Now days, the art of being a daredevil has become so
sophisticated that chances of survival are almost predictable.
It wasn't until some years after the bitter fighting along the shores of the
Niagara River during the War of 1812, that Niagara started to come into its own
as a tourist attraction.
By the 1820's there were three hotels catering to the visitors of Niagara Falls.
The hotel owners were responsible for the first stunt over the Falls in order to
attract attention of members of the public and to boost the tourist trade.
The hotel owners acquired a condemned Lake Erie schooner named the "Michigan".
The hotel owners then advertised in advance that they would send the schooner
over the Horseshoe Falls on September 8th 1827.
Most of the animals placed aboard were able to safely escape before the ship
broke apart on the shoals and was swept over the Horseshoe Falls.
This daredevil event took place as advertised before an estimated crowd of
This heralded the beginning of 170 years of recorded history of men and women
challenging the Niagara River and the Falls in face of death for fame and
fortune. Like a giant roulette wheel, they came willingly and gambled with their
SCHOONER "MICHIGAN" 1827 (animals aboard)
In 1827, William Forsyth of the Pavilion Hotel with the help of John Brown of
the Ontario House and General Parkhurst Whitney of the Eagle Hotel in Niagara
Falls, New York staged the very first tourist stunt at Niagara Falls.
Forsyth bought an old condemned lake schooner named "Michigan"
The "Michigan" was 16 feet from keel to the deck. The water depth at the crest
of the Horseshoe Falls was nearly twenty feet deep back then (presently 3 - 5
The hotel owners then advertised in advance that they would send the schooner
over the Horseshoe Falls on September 8th 1827. Printed broadsheets were
delivered throughout Western New York and Upper Canada announcing:
"The pirate Michigan with a cargo of ferocious wild animals will pass the great
rapids and falls of Niagara - 8th September 1827 at 6 o'clock
The Michigan has long braved the bellows of Erie, with success, as a merchant
vessel: but having been condemned by her owners unfit to sail long proudly
"above"; her present proprietors, together with several public spirited friends,
have appointed her to carry a cargo of Living Animals of the Forest, which
surround the upper lakes, through the white tossing and deep rolling rapids of
Niagara and down its great precipice, into the basin "below". The greatest
exertions are being made to procure animals of the most ferocious kind, such as
Panthers, Wild Cats and Wolves; but in lieu of these , which it may be
impossible to obtain , a few vicious or worthless dogs, such as may possess
strength and activity, and perhaps a few of the toughest of the lesser animals
will be added to, and compose the cargo...
Should the vessel take her course through the deepest of the rapids, it is
confidently believed that she will reach the Horse Shoe unbroken; if so she will
perform her voyage to the water of the Gulf beneath which is of great depth and
buoyancy, entire, but what her fate will be the trial will decide. Should the
animals be young and hardy and possessed of great muscular power and joining
their fate with that of the vessel, remain on board until she reaches the water
below, there is a great possibility that many of them will have performed the
terrible jaunt, unhurt!"
To further add to the stunt the schooner was decorated to look like a pirate
ship with human shaped dummies tied to her deck.
The only animals placed on board the doomed ship included a buffalo, two small
bears, two raccoons, a dog and one goose. Some reports also included two fox,
fifteen geese and an eagle. This was a far cry from the ferocious animals that
Forsyth had advertised would be aboard the doomed vessel.
On September 8th 1827, with a crowd estimated at 10,000, the ship was towed by
Captain James Rough from Black Rock to Navy Island using the paddle steamer "Chippawa".
Here the "Michigan" was pointed towards the Falls in mid-river. Prior to the
release of the "Michigan", visitors were allowed to board the schooner and view
the condemned animals.
At approximately 6 p.m., the schooner "Michigan" was released into the currents
of the upper Niagara River and drifted towards the Falls. As it reached the
rapids, its hull was torn open and the schooner began filling with water. The
two bears running loose on deck jumped free of the schooner into the rapids.
They were able to swim to Goat Island. The other animals were caged or tied to
the ship died when the schooner went over the Horseshoe Falls. At the base of
the Falls, only the goose had survived the plunge and was caught by Mr. Duggan.
SAM PATCH 1829 (Survived)
On Wednesday October 7th 1829, Sam Patch became the first daredevil to challenge
the Niagara River. The 22 year old from Rhode island dove into the churning
waters of the Niagara River from a height of 85 feet. Mr. Patch chose Goat
Island between the Luna Falls and the Bridal Falls to erect his diving platform.
He survived this headfirst high dive unscathed. On October 17th 1829, Sam Patch
made the second successful high dive at the falls from a height of 130 feet.
Following his feats at Niagara Falls, Sam Patch went to Rochester where he
attempted a 100 foot dive into the Genesee River. During this dive, Patch died
E. JACKSON 1856 (Survived)
On August 27th 1856, E. Jackson swam in the Niagara River from the Briddle
Stairway (Goat Island) to the Horseshoe Falls.
THE GREAT BLONDIN AKA: Jean Francois Gravelot1859 (Survived)
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.
On September 8th 1860, Blondin completed his final tight rope crossing of the
Niagara River. In 1860, Signor Guillermo Antonio Farini (aka: William Hunt) of
Lockport, New York was Blondin's formidable rival. Others followed in the
absence of Blondin but none was more daring or famous.
Blondin died in 1897 at the age of 73 years.
SETH FORD 1859 (Survived)
On July 22nd 1859, Seth Ford swam across the Niagara River from a location north
of the American Falls to the Canadian shoreline.
SIGNOR GUILLERMO ANTONIO FARINI "THE GREAT FARINI" aka: WILLIAM LEONARD HUNT
William Leonard Hunt was born Lockport, New York in 1838. Hunt was raised and
educated in Port Hope, Ontario. He had dual citizenship.
During the early summer of 1860, a young 22 year old Hunt watched intently from
the shore of the Niagara Gorge as Blondin made his way across the Niagara Gorge
by walking across a rope strung from side to side. Hunt turned to his girlfriend
and proclaimed that he could do what Blondin could. That night, Hunt and his
girlfriend returned to Lockport, New York. Hunt was working for the father of
his girlfriend as a store keeper, gave notice to his employer that he was
quitting to pursue his career dream as a rope walker in order to challenge
Blondin. His girlfriend immediately broke off their engagement.
During the summer of 1859, Hunt was offered $100 to perform at a local fair in
Port Hope. Hunt demanded $500 on the condition that he would stand on his head
above the Ganaraska River. Hunt carried out this performance with a borrowed
rope. He walked back and forth across the river without a balancing pole. In
addition, he stood on his head, did somersaults and walked blind folded as he
had promised. Hunt was an extremely strong young man and had won a tug of war
over six other men single handed.
William Hunt changed his name to Signor Guillermo Antonio Farini. He would
quickly become known as "The Great Farini". Farini left his home in Port Hope
after his father accused him of being a disgrace to his family by becoming a
Farini moved to Minnesota and for a short time worked at his uncle's general
store. Farini then joined the Dan Rice's floating circus on the Mississippi
River. Farini was reunited with his family after buying his father a farm.
Farini issued a series of challenges to Blondin but they remained unanswered.
Blondin was a more polished acrobat however Farini was a much more powerful
performer and a much better businessman. Blondin usually took a collection at
the end of each performance while Farini marketed and packaged his performances
to ensure a larger audience and financial success.
Farini's first performance at Niagara Falls occurred on August 15th 1860. Farini
began the tightrope walk while carrying a balancing pole and an additional coil
of rope strapped to his back. When Farini reached the mid-point he tied the pole
to the tightrope and using the coil of rope he carried with him, Farini lowered
himself to the deck of the Maid of the Mist boat 200 feet below. Getting down
was relatively easy. On the deck of the boat, Farini drank a glass of wine
before ascending back to the tightrope above. This task was much more demanding
than Farini anticipated. Farini was near total exhaustion and nearly fell on
several occasions. Farini did make it back to the tightrope, and continued to
the shoreline. After a brief ten minute rest, Farini made the return crossing
blindfolding and wearing baskets on his feet. This was the first and only time
that Farini tried lowering himself from the tightrope to the river below.
Blondin did not try to equal this feat.
In the weeks that followed, Farini matched or surpassed each of Blondin's
performances. Farini balanced himself on his head, hung from the tightrope by
his toes and carried a person across the Niagara Gorge on his back. On September
5th 1860, Farini carried an Irish washer woman across the gorge on his back to
counter an earlier performance by Blondin. When Blondin took out a stove on the
tightrope and cooked an omelette, Farini carried a washtub out on the tightrope.
He then lowered a bucket to the river below to retrieve water in order to wash a
dozen handkerchiefs. Farini had a driving desire to be the best.
Farini performed at Niagara Falls twice each week. Although his acts were more
daring and drew larger crowds, he never achieved the fame that Blondin did.
Blondin received most of the attention and most of the press.
For Farini, tightrope walking was but one of his many interests throughout his
life. During his life he was an inventor, an explorer, writer, secret service
agent, painter and sculptor. In 1862, while performing a tightrope walk above a
bull ring in Havana, Cuba, a female he was carrying on his back fell to the
ground below. The female dies several days later.
On August 8th 1864, Farini returned to Niagara Falls and attempted to perform
another death defying feat. Farini wearing a pair of specially made stilts waded
out into the cascading water just above the American Falls. Farini planned to
walk to the brink of the Falls but one of the stilts he was wearing was caught
in a crevice in the riverbed causing it to break. Farini suffered a badly
injured leg but was still able to reach Robinson Island which is nearest the
Luna Falls. Here he was rescued. Farini left Niagara Falls defeated and
In 1866, Farini took his tightrope and circus act to England, Europe, Africa and
the Middle East. During the years that followed, Farini did many other things
with his life. He was an explorer and during the American Civil War, Farini was
a member of the Secret Service for the Confederate Army, The Great Farini
returned to Canada in 1899. He took up the art of oil painting. He remained
active in his later years as well.
William Leonard Hunt, aka: The Great Farini died in January of 1929 at the age
of 91 years. Farini is buried in Port Hope, Ontario. The Great Farini was one of
the worlds greatest tightrope walkers to ever conquer Niagara.
CAPTAIN JOEL ROBINSON 1861 (Survived)
In 1846, the Niagara Falls Ferry Association was incorporated. The Maid of the
Mist Ferry Service had begun.
The first Maid of the Mist was launched on May 27th 1846. It remained the only
method to cross the border until 1848, when the first suspension bridge was
built. With a ferry service no longer required the Maid of the Mist boat service
realized the need for a tourist boat attraction.
Due to its popularity, a larger boat, the Maid of the Mist II was launched for
service on July 14th 1854. It was a single smoke stacked 72 foot long steam
propelled paddle wheeler. In 1861, due to a financial crisis and the impending
American Civil War, the Maid of the Mist was sold at public auction. It was sold
to a Canadian Company providing the boat could be delivered to Lake Ontario. In
order to do so the Maid of the Mist would have to be navigated through the Great
Gorge Rapids, the Whirlpool and the Lower Rapids prior to delivery. The thought
was mind boggling and terrifying.
On June 6th 1861, 53 year old Captain Joel Robinson undertook this mission along
with two deck hands. At approximately 3 p.m., with his mechanic, James McIntyre
at his side in the wheel house, Captain Robinson began this perilous journey.
His engineer, James Jones was tending to the boiler to ensure maximum power was
available when needed. A short blast of the boats whistle announced the
beginning. With both shores lined with people who had come to see this
spectacle, Captain Robinson and crew rode the Maid of the Mist through one of
the world's most wild and dangerous white water rapids.
The first giant wave, threw Robinson and McIntyre to the floor of the wheel
house and tore the smoke stack from the boat. Engineer Jones was thrown to the
floor of the engine room. On his knees, he held on to a pipe stand for his life.
The boat was now at the mercy of the mountainous waves crashing against and over
the tiny boat. The boat was carried at approximately 39 miles per hour through
the rock strewn rapids. Soon the Maid of the Mist was propelled into the
Whirlpool. The relative tranquility of the Whirlpool allowed Captain Robinson to
regain control of his boat.
Captain Robinson had great difficulty breaking the Maid of the Mist from the
grip of the Whirlpool before challenging the final leg of this dangerous trip
through the dreaded Devil's Hole Rapids. As the boat escaped the grips of the
Whirlpool, Captain Robinson did the best he could to hold a course through the
center of the channel with his badly damaged vessel.
The three mile journey through the rapids and the whirlpool was successful
except for losing the smoke stack. Captain Robinson had accomplished something
no one had done before and thought impossible. Captain Robinson and his crew
were motivated by the five hundred dollar reward if they successfully delivered
the boat to the docks at Queenston, Ontario.
The frightening experience of this journey caused Captain Robinson to give up a
career that he loved. He retired into near seclusion. Captain Robinson died two
years later at the age of 55 years.
HARRY LESLIE 1865 (Survived)
On June 15th 1865, Harry Leslie, "the American Blondin", walked a tightrope
across the Niagara Gorge over the Whirlpool Rapids.
J.F. "PROFESSOR" JENKINS 1869 (Survived)
On August 25th 1869, J.F. "Professor" Jenkins crossed the Niagara Gorge on a
tightrope located at the Whirlpool Rapids just north of the Railway Suspension
Bridge. Professor Jenkins rode across on a combination bicycle - velocipede.
HENRY BELLINI 1873 (Survived)
Henry Bellini was born in England.
In 1873, Bellini came to Niagara Falls at the age of 32 years. On August 25th
1873, Bellini made his first tight rope walk across the Niagara River using a
1,500 foot long - 2.5 inch diameter rope weighing 2,500 pounds. He combined a
tight rope walk with a leap into the churning river below. He tried crossing
using a 48 pound - 22 foot long balance pole. Following his leap into the water,
Bellini was picked up by an awaiting boat. Bellini made three such leaps during
1873. In the winter of 1886, Bellini jumped from the Upper Suspension Bridge. He
was hauled from the water unconscious with broken ribs but alive.
Bellini died in 1888 while jumping from a bridge in London, England.
CAPTAIN J. D. RHODES 1878
On June 26th 1878, Captain J. D. Rhodes jumped into the Niagara River from a
ninety foot high platform erected below Prospect Point on the American shore.
STEPHEN PEER 1887 (Died)
Stephen Peer was born in 1840 in the Stamford Township and was 19 years old when
Blondin performed his first tight rope walk in Niagara Falls. Peer wanted to
become Niagara's first tight rope walker.
In 1873, Stephen Peer signed on to become an assistant to Henry Bellini by
helping Bellini string the rope across the gorge. Peer's first public appearance
opened with Bellini's equipment but without Bellini's consent. Bellini tried to
stop Peer by trying to cut the tight rope without success. Bellini was chased
out of town.
By 1887, Peer had become famous enough to begin performing under his own
billing. On June 22nd 1887, Peer performed a tight rope walk on a five-eighth
inch diameter wire cable stretched between the present Whirlpool Bridge and the
Penn Central Bridge. Peer started his crossing on the Canadian side,
successfully completing a double crossing.
On June 25th 1887, Stephen Peer was found dead laying on the bank of the Niagara
river directly below his wire cable. It is speculated that Peer tried an
unscheduled night crossing after an evening of drinking.
MARIA SPELTERINI 1876 (Survived)
Signorina Maria Spelterini became the first woman to ever cross the Niagara
River gorge on a tight rope.
Spelterini was a 23 year old buxom 150 pound beautiful woman of Italian descent.
She made her debut on July 8th 1876 performing a successful crossing using two
and a quarter inch wire located just North of the lower suspension bridge (
presently the Whirlpool Bridge). Maria Spelterini soon proved herself equal to
those tight rope walkers that preceded her.
On July 12th 1876, Spelterini crossed wearing peach baskets strapped to her
feet. On July 19th 1876, she crossed blind folded. On July 22nd 1876, Spelterini
crossed with her ankles and wrists manacled.
On July 26th 1876, Maria Spelterini made a farewell crossing. She never
performed any more in Niagara Falls. Her personal life remains a mystery. The
date and place of her death are unknown.
DAVID MCDOWELL 1881 (Survived)
On August 10th 1881, David McDowell of Batavia, New York walked across the
Niagara Gorge on the narrow railing of the Upper Suspension Bridge. He was
intoxicated at the time.
FRANK M. BROWN 1882 (Survived)
On August 25th 1882, Frank M. Brown of New York City, New York swam across the
Niagara River from the foot of the American Falls to the Canadian shoreline in 4
minutes and 46 seconds.
CLIFFORD CALVERLY 1887, 1890 (Survived)
Records are very few pertaining to Clifford Calverly.
Calverly was born in 1870 in Thornbury, Ontario. He lived in Clarksburg, Ontario
where he worked as a steeplejack. In 1887, Clifford Calverly came to Niagara
Falls to perform his tight rope act.
During his successful crossing he set a speed record by crossing the gorge in
two minutes and thirty-two seconds as compared to the usual fifteen to twenty
minutes required by most of his predecessors. During subsequent crossings,
Calverly skipped rope, hung by one arm, hung by one foot, sat on a chair and
used a wheelbarrow.
D.H. MACDONALD 1887, 1890 (Survived)
D. H. MacDonald made at least one successful crossing using the equipment of
CHARLES CROMWELL 1887, 1890 (Survived)
Charles Cromwell was born in Blenheim, Ontario. He was the son of Frank and Maud
Cromwell. Frank was an aerial trapeze artist. Frank and Maud worked for the
Ringling Brothers Circus. Charles grew up and lived in Paris, Ontario but
traveled frequently with his parents and the circus. Once Charles had grown up
he began working with the Yankee Robinson Circus as a rope walker.
A successful tight rope walk across the Niagara River gorge was completed by
Charles Cromwell. Cromwell failed to attract much media or public attention.
Charles completed two crossings of the Niagara River Gorge. He utilized a 16
foot (4.8m) long balancing pole that weighed 42 pounds. He died in Galt, Ontario
on December 19th 1938 at the age of 83 years.
WALTER G. CAMPBELL 1889 (Survived)
Walter Campbell and dog "Jumbo"
navigated a clinker boat through the Whirlpool Rapids
Walter Campbell was born on October 30th 1868 in Youngstown, New York. He was
one of eleven children born to his parents James and Rachel (Ribble) Campbell.
On September 15th 1888 at approximately 3:20 p.m., nineteen year old Walter
Campbell set out along the Niagara River with several friends and his pet dog
"Jumbo" in a small clinker built boat.
Campbell rowed to the old Maid of the Mist landing (just south of the Michigan
Central Railway Cantilever Bridge) where he dropped his friends off.
Campbell wearing bathing trunks and a cork life preserver, set out form shore
with his pet dog onboard. Campbell was standing while using an oar as a rudder
to guide his boat to the middle of the river.
Campbell was swept downstream by the current into the Whirlpool Rapids. As he
entered the ferocious white water, his dog "Jumbo" was thrown into the water
ahead of the boat. Campbell lost the oar he was holding. He crouched down into
the boat and was seen holding the sides of the boat as it pitched wildly in the
As the boat was propelled through the rapids, it quickly filled with water. The
boat broke into pieces, throwing Campbell into the water.
Campbell had to swim against the current to avoid being struck by the wreckage
of the boat, before being swiftly carried into the Whirlpool. At the Whirlpool,
Campbell was able to swim to the Canadian shoreline where he was rescued twenty
minutes after his journey began.
Campbell's pet dog died from drowning during the perilous journey.
Following his feat of survival, Campbell earned a thousand dollars for a four
week appearance at the old Wonderland in Buffalo, New York.
On January 16th 1909, died at the age of 39 years, two weeks after he had been
committed to the county almshouse as a result of a chronic illness.
SAMUEL J. DIXON 1890 (Survived)
Samuel J. Dixon was a photographer from Toronto, Ontario. On September 6th 1890,
Dixon crossed the Niagara River gorge using a seven - eighths inch diameter rope
stretched across the gorge over the wildest part of the Whirlpool Rapids. His
balancing pole was made up of three pieces of gas pipe - sixteen feet in length.
Dixon crossed from the Canadian side to the American side before returning. On
the return he added more suspense by lying on the rope with the pole resting on
his chest, standing on one foot and by hanging from the rope with one hand.
Dixon was truly the last of the memorable tight rope walkers ever to come to
JAMES E. HARDY 1896 (Survived)
James E. Hardy came from Toronto, Ontario to Niagara Falls in the summer of
1896. At the age of 21 years, Hardy was the youngest person ever to tight rope
walk across the Niagara River gorge. During the summer of 1896, Hardy made
sixteen crossings. James Hardy died in May 1939 at age 65 in the City of
OLIVER HILTON 1897 (Survived)
Oliver Hilton came to Niagara Falls from Hamburg, New York. He was a
professional circus rope walker. Hilton claims to have crossed the Niagara River
gorge on September 16th 1897 ( at the age of 10 years) in stocking feet on the
rope that James E. Hardy had left behind. No proof existed to support this
CAPTAIN MATTHEW WEBB 1883 (Died)
Captain Matthew Webb was born in Shropshire, England in 1848. He was one of
seven children born to his parents, Matthew Webb and Sarah Cartwright. At the
age of 12 years, Matthew Webb enrolled as a sea cadet on the naval training
ship, the HMS Conway in Liverpool, England. He became an experienced sailor.
During his years at sea, he became a very good swimmer. He became famous for his
swimming feats, many performed while saving human lives.
In 1873 Webb became the recipient of a gold medal from the Royal Humane Society
of Great Britain for lifesaving for jumping off a Cunard steamer "Russia" to
save a sailor who had been washed over board.
On August 24th 1875, Webb swam the English Channel. Webb came to Niagara Falls
during the Summer of 1883 to challenge the Niagara River. He had been promised a
$2,000 reward if he swam the Niagara River Whirlpool Rapids.
At 4 p.m. on the afternoon of July 24th 1883, Captain Webb was rowed out from
the Maid of the Mist landing to the middle of the Niagara River by Jack McCloy.
At 4:25 p.m., Captain Webb dove into the river and began swimming towards the
great whirlpool rapids. Eye witnesses claim that Captain Webb made the trip
through the rapids in two minutes only to be drawn underwater at the vortex of
Whirlpool. There are however conflicting eye witness accounts as to whether
Captain Webb drowned in the rapids or in the whirlpool. At any rate, Webb's
mangled body was recovered from the Niagara River near Queenston four days later
History would later prove that the swim Captain Webb had undertaken could be
Captain Webb was buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls, New York.
On August 22nd 1886, a Boston Policeman made the trip through the rapids wearing
a cork life preserver. On July 18th 1933, William Kondrat age 18 of Chatham, New
Jersey began swimming across the Niagara River near the Maid of the Mist docks.
Kondrat was swept down river by the current towards the Great Whirlpool Rapids.
Kondrat survived the rapids and the Whirlpool by the narrowest margin. Before
being rescued Kondrat had been in the water nearly two and a half hours.
CARLISLE GRAHAM 1886 (Survived)
On July 11th 1886, Niagara Falls witnessed its first barrel stunt. Carlisle D.
Graham, an English cooper (barrel maker) who had recently immigrated to
Philadelphia Pennsylvania USA came to Niagara Falls. Graham had constructed a
five and a half foot barrel of oaken staves and handmade iron hoops for his
widely advertised trip.
On Sunday July 11th 1886 during the early afternoon, Graham began his trip from
what is now the Whirlpool Bridge through the great gorge rapids and the
whirlpool. Graham stood six feet tall had to stoop over once inside the barrel
to allow the water tight lid to be screwed into place. He was completely encased
in a waterproof canvas sheath with the exception of his two arms which allowed
Graham to hold onto inside mounted metal handles. The initial trip took 30
minutes. Graham survived but had become extremely ill and dizzy from the ride.
This led Graham to announce that on August 19th 1886 he would make a second
trip. In this trip he would keep his head outside of the barrel. On August 8th
1886, before Graham could undertake this stunt, two fellow shipmates George
Hazlett and William Potts successfully conquered this same stretch of river
using Grahams barrel. Both survived uninjured.
Carlisle Graham made his second trip as scheduled on August 19th 1886. Graham
survived but leaving his head outside the barrel resulted in Graham sustaining
hearing impaired. On August 18th 1886, the day before Graham's second trip,
James Scott, of Lewiston, New York attempted to swim the rapids and lost his
In November 1886, George Hazlett and his girlfriend Sadie Allen of Buffalo, New
York rode the barrel together through the rapids and the whirlpool without
Graham made his third trip through the rapids on June 15th 1887 and his fourth
trip on August 25th 1889 in a newly designed seven foot long barrel.
Now famous, Graham announced that he would ride his barrel over the falls but
did not carry out his plan. On July 14th 1901, Graham made his fifth trip
through the whirlpool rapids. During this trip he nearly suffocated to death
after getting caught in a whirlpool eddy for twenty minutes.
On September 6th 1901, Graham loaned his barrel to Martha Wagenfuhrer of
Buffalo, New York. Miss Wagenfuhrer became the first woman to successfully
navigate the rapids and whirlpool alone. On September 7th 1901, Graham arranged
a double performance with friend Maude Willard of Canton, Ohio. Willard would
ride the barrel through the rapids to the Whirlpool and both she and Graham
would swim the rest of the way to Lewiston. Willard rode Graham's barrel through
the rapids then was caught in the whirlpool for several hours before she could
be rescued. Willard was found dead of suffocation. She had taken her pet fox
terrier along with her and the dogs nose had become stuck in the barrels only
On July 17th 1905, Graham swam a race in the lower rapids below the Whirlpool to
Lewiston with William J. Glover Jr. of Baltimore Maryland. Glover won the race.
Glover was 32 years old and Graham was 45 years old. Both wore life preservers
and neck braces. Graham's date of death is unknown. He is buried in Oakwood
Cemetery in Niagara Falls, New York.
GEORGE POTTS and WILLIAM HAZLETT 1886 (Survived)
On August 8th 1886, George Potts and William Hazlett, together, navigated
through the Whirlpool Rapids in a barrel owned by Carlisle Graham.
JAMES SCOTT 1886 (Died)
On August 22nd 1886, Carlisle Graham had offered $10 to anyone willing to
retrieve his barrel from the Whirlpool following his daredevil stunt ride
through the Whirlpool Rapids. James Scott agreed to Graham's offer. While
awaiting Grahams return, Scott made a practice jump into the water from a
location west of Thompson's Point at the Whirlpool. Scott failed to resurface
and died of drowning.
WILLIAM KENDALL 1886 (Survived)
On August 22nd 1886, William Kendall went through the Whirlpool Rapids wearing
only a life preserver as protection.
LAWRENCE DONOVAN 1886 (Survived)
On November 7th 1886, Lawrence Donovan jumped into the Niagara River from the
Upper Suspension Bridge while wearing suit, canvas shoes and a bowler hat.
ALPHONSE "PROFESSOR" KING 1886, 1887 (Survived)
On December 15th 1886, Alphonse "Professor" King walked 30.5 meters (100 feet)
on the Niagara River near the Canadian shoreline while wearing a pair of tin
shoes. King called his shoes "Golden Fish". This stunt took place at the Upper
On August 14th 1887, Alphonse King crossed the Niagara River below the Horseshoe
Falls on a water bicycle. The modified bicycle consisted of a wheel with paddles
erected between two water tight cylinders - 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter and 10
feet (3m) long.
CHARLES A. PERCY 1887, 1888 (Survived)
On August 28th 1887, Charles A. Percy successfully navigated the Whirlpool
Rapids in a boat. Percy was unable to continue his journey along the river to
Lewiston New York because his boat became stranded in the Whirlpool.
On September 16th 1888, Percy again successfully navigated the Whirlpool Rapids
in his boat. On this trip, Percy was able to cross the Whirlpool and continue
his trip through the Great Gorge Rapids (Devils Hole Rapids) on route to
Lewiston. As Percy was passing the Niagara Glen area, he was tossed out of his
boat. Percy was wearing a life preserver and was able to floated down river the
remaining distance to Lewiston, New York.
ROBERT FLACK 1888 (Died)
On July 4th 1888, Robert Flack was drowned while attempting to navigate the
Whirlpool Rapids in a boat. Flack was using a self described "secret" buoyant
filling which turned out to be excelsior (wood shavings). Flack had secured
himself into his boat by a number of harnesses. Unfortunately Flack's boat over
turned and Flack was unable to free himself before drowning.
I.H. ASHLEY1890 (Survived)
On May 3rd 1890, I.H. Ashley of Chicago, lowered himself from the Upper
Suspension Bridge into a small boat waiting in the Niagara River below. Ashley
used aluminium tape controlled by a clutch to lower himself to the awaiting
PETER "BOWSER" NISSEN 1900, 1901 (Survived)
In July 1900, Peter Nissen came to Niagara Falls to challenge the Niagara River.
Nissen had brought with him a specially built boat in an attempt to conquer the
great gorge rapids and the whirlpool. His boat was twenty feet long with a six
foot wide beam and four foot depth. It was entirely decked over except for a
center cockpit. Nissen has air compartments built into the front, back and sides
of the cockpit. Nissen first trip through the rapids was successful however his
boat became trapped in the Whirlpool for over an hour before being brought to
shore. The next day, Nissen completed the trip from the Whirlpool to Lewiston.
Over the winter, Nissen rebuilt his boat. It was longer and two feet narrower
with an eight horsepower steam engine. It had a larger rudder and more ballast.
After making several successful runs in the river just below the falls, Nissen
was ready to challenge the rapids. On October 12th 1901, Nissen rode the boat
through the rapids. As he did, he ducked into a crawl space under the cockpit
without incident. In a later incident, Peter Nissen and friend James Rich began
to do depth soundings in the Whirlpool. While doing so the boat was caught in
the vortex of the Whirlpool and damaged severely. Both Nissen and Rich narrowly
escaped death but the boat sank.
The first person to actually ride the rapids in a boat was Charles Percy in
August 1887. Percy was riding a seventeen foot boat. He made three trips through
the rapids in 1887. On Percy's last trip he narrowly escaped death and his boat
On July 4th 1888, Robert Flack of Syracuse, New York was killed in an attempt to
copy the feat of Charles Percy. Flack had secured himself into his boat by a
number of harnesses. Unfortunately Flack's boat over turned and Flack was unable
to free himself before drowning.
CAPTAIN BILLY JOHNSON 1901 (Survived)
On July 4th 1901, Captain Billy Johnson jumped into the Niagara River from the
deck of the Maid of the Mist boat just below the Horseshoe Falls and swam down
JOE CHAMBERS 1901 (Survived)
On August 2nd 1901, Joe Chambers swam the Lower Rapids (Devils Hole Rapids)
between the Whirlpool and Queenston - Lewiston. Chambers wearing a life buoy
arrived safely at the dock in Lewiston, New York.
MARTHA WAGENFURHER 1901 (Survived)
On September 6th 1901, Martha Wagenfurher journeyed through the Whirlpool Rapids
in a barrel. Upon reaching the Whirlpool, Wagenfurher became stranded in the
middle for such a lengthy period of time that it became necessary to call for
the Great Gorge Railway illumination car to be brought to the Whirlpool so its
search light could illuminate the water surface. When Wagenfurher was pulled to
shore she was exhausted and sea sick but otherwise uninjured.
MAUD WILLARD 1901 (Died)
On September 7th 1901, Maude Willard and Carlisle Graham planned a combined
stunt. Willard would traverse the Whirlpool Rapids in Graham's barrel and from
the Whirlpool she would continue to Lewiston with Graham swimming behind the
Willard entered the barrel with her pet dog for the journey through the rapids.
As the barrel reached the Whirlpool it became stranding for the next six hours
in the middle.
When the barrel was recovered and brought to shore, Maude Willard was dead. Her
pet dog jumped out of the barrel uninjured. The dog survived the ordeal by
putting its nose to the only air hole the barrel had allowing the dog to breathe
which resulted in Willard suffocating to death.
ANNIE EDSON TAYLOR 1901 (Survived)
Mrs. Annie Edson Taylor became the first woman to challenge Niagara Falls in a
barrel. Mrs. Taylor was born on October 24th 1855 in Auburn, New York. She was
married at the age of 17 years and by the time she was 20 years old, Annie
Taylor gave birth to a son. Her son died several days after birth.
On October 24th 1901, her birthday, Taylor rode her barrel over Niagara Falls.
She was a 46 year old widow and was a school teacher in Bay City, Michigan. She
weighed 160 pounds. Annie Taylor had no previous experience when she came to
Niagara Falls seeking fame and fortune.
Taylor's barrel was built with white Kentucky oak held together by seven iron
hoops. It was 22 inches in diameter at the head, 34 inches in diameter in the
middle and 15 inches in diameter at the foot. The barrel was four and a half
feet long and weighed 160 pounds. For ballast a 100 - 200 pound anvil was placed
in the barrels bottom.
She began her trip from the north side of Little Grass Island situated just off
of the American side of the Niagara River upstream of Goat Island. She was
dressed in a long black dress and a flowery hat. About 600 feet from shore Mrs.
Taylor climbed into her barrel so that she was standing on the anvil. The barrel
was packed with padding and a small mattress and the lid was then screwed into
At 4:05 p.m., when released, the barrel flowed toward the Canadian side and over
the Horseshoe Falls. Mrs. Taylor successfully endured the trip without any major
injuries (slight cuts and bruises only). It wasn't until 4:40 p.m. that rescuers
could get close enough to Taylor's barrel along the Canadian shore to let her
out. The top of Taylor's barrel had to be cut away. When released from the
barrel Mrs. Taylor said " nobody ought ever do that again".
Annie Edson Taylor was famous for a short time but the fortune she sought eluded
her. Following her record feat, Taylor managed a meagre living by posing for
photographs. Taylor died on April 29th 1921 at the Niagara County Infirmary in
Lockport, New York. She is buried in the stunters section of Oakwood Cemetery in
Niagara Falls, New York.
CAPTAIN KLAUS LARSEN 1910 (Survived)
On September 18th 1910, Captain Klaus Larsen was the only boater to show up in
response to an advertisement by the Niagara International Carnival Committee
promoting a boat race through the Whirlpool Rapids.
As the only participant, Larsen rode his boat through the rapids to the
Whirlpool. Larsen began the second leg of his journey through the Lower Rapids
(Devils Hole Rapids) on route to Queenston. During this portion of his trip,
Larsen's boat was swamped and Larsen was tossed into the water within sight of
Larsen was able to make his way to shore and finished his trip to Queenston
aboard the Great Gorge Railway.
On October 28th 1911, Captain Larsen made a successful trip through the
Whirlpool Rapids in his boat. Larsen successfully repeated this same stunt on
October 29th 1911.
LINCOLN BEACHY 1911 (Survived)
Lincoln Beachy was born in San Francisco in 1887. At the age of 18 years, Beachy
built his own dirigible. He was a short man with a jutting jaw.
The first airplane to appear over Niagara Falls came in June 1911 in response to
a $1,000 prize offered to anyone piloting an aircraft to attend the joint United
States - Canadian International Carnival at Buffalo and Fort Erie.
The airplane was a Curtiss biplane and was piloted by Lincoln Beachy an American
employed by Curtiss Aircraft Company of Nebraska. The Curtiss biplane had an
open cockpit and was a two winged plane.
On June 28th 1911 at 5:40 p.m., Beachy took off from an airfield in Niagara
Falls, New York climbing high into the sky, Beachy circled his plane over the
falls several times before diving down into the mist of the falls to within
twenty feet of the waters surface before flying under the arch of the Falls View
Honeymoon Bridge. Beachy continued to fly his plane just above the river surface
along the length of the gorge at a speed of 50 mph before climbing back up high
into the sky before he reached the two rail bridges. Lincoln Beachy was the
first person to fly under a Niagara Falls bridge.
Beachy was killed on March 14th 1915 during a flying exhibition over San
Francisco, California. Beachy's aircraft crashed into San Francisco Bay.
BOBBY LEACH 1910, 1911 (Survived)
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
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
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.
OSCAR WILLIAMS 1911 (Survived)
Oscar Williams (a.k.a. Oscar Wilson) came to Niagara Falls in June of 1911.
Williams called himself "The Great Houdini".
On June 25th 1911 at approximately 5:30 p.m., Oscar Williams performed a stunt
described as the "Slide for Life". This stunt took place near the Upper
Williams took a leather thong in his teeth and shoved off from the American
shore and skidded along an ascending wire cable which was stretched across the
Niagara Gorge to the Canadian shore. When Williams reached the center of the
span, the cable had not been tightened enough and began to sag in the middle.
With insufficient momentum, Williams became stuck and for thirty minutes hung
stationary until a rope was run out to him and he was lowered from the cable to
the deck of the Maid of the Mist boat in the river below.
PETER LANGAARD 1911 (Survived)
On October 24th 1911, Peter Langaard successfully navigated the Whirlpool in a
boat. Langaard's boat struck a piece of driftwood while circling the Whirlpool
losing the propeller from his boat motor.
Without power, Langaard was stranded in the Whirlpool for four hours and twenty
minutes before being rescued.
CHARLES STEPHENS 1920 (Died)
Charles Stephens came to Niagara Falls to challenge the Niagara River during the
summer of 1920. Stephens was a 58 year old barber from Bristol, England. He was
the father of eleven children. His wife was named Annie. He had acquired a
reputation of daredevil in Europe where he made a number of high dives and
several parachute jumps. In Bristol, England he was known as the "Demon Barber
On July 11th 1920, Charles Stephens went over the Horseshoe Falls in a barrel
made from Russian oak. Bobby Leach advised Stephens not to make his journey
until Stephen's barrel was perfected. Stephens refused because he thought Leach
did not want him to be a success like Annie Taylor and Bobby Leach. Leached
asked William "Red" Hill Sr. to speak to Stephens.
Hill Sr. suggested that Stephens send his barrel over the Falls unoccupied for
the first time as a test but Stephens refused. The barrel was heavy and had
straps for Stephens arms. As ballast, Stephens strapped an anvil to his feet
while Leach and Hill Sr. looked on in amazement and horror. Charles Stephens was
a stubborn man. He was reluctantly persuaded to take a small tank of oxygen with
him. He wore only padded clothing.
Because of the possibility of the police trying to stop him, Stephens decided to
begin his trip over the Horseshoe Falls with little fanfare at 8:10 a.m..
Stephens left from Snyder's point located about three miles upstream from the
Falls. Leach was so certain that a tragedy was going to take place that he left
not wanting to watch. Stephens went over the brink at 8:55 a.m.. When the huge
barrel hit the water at the base of the waterfall, the anvil which was tied to
Stephens feet was propelled through the bottom of the barrel taking Stephens to
The remnants of the barrel remained trapped at the base of the Falls until its
iron rings broke away. When recovered, only the tattooed right arm of Stephens
was still strapped in the harness. The tattoo read "Forget Me Not Annie".
Stephens arm is buried in an unmarked grave at Drummond Hill Cemetery in Niagara
Charles Stephens became famous for being the first of the barrel stunters to die
challenging the Falls.
It would be eight years before another daredevil would challenge the river
In 1991, the only surviving child Viola Cogan age 81 years visited the Horseshoe
Falls. Ms Cogan was present in 1920 when her father made his fatal plunge.
VINCENT TAYLOR 1927 (Survived)
On September 5th 1927, Vincent Taylor, an Australian daredevil, made a parachute
jump from the Upper Steel Arch Bridge.
JEAN LUSSIER 1928 (Survived)
On July 4th 1928, Jean Lussier a 36 year old French speaking man from
Springfield, Massachusetts came to Niagara Falls and made history by going over
the falls in a rubber ball and by being the first person to utilize an inflated
rubber craft instead of the more conventional wooden barrel or steel drum.
Joseph Albert Jean Lussier was born in Concord, New Hampshire. His French
Canadian parents moved back to Quebec shortly after Lussier was born. At age 16,
Lussier returned to New Hampshire in order to learn English. Lussier was working
in a grocery store when he heard about the Charles Stephens tragedy in Niagara
Falls. Lussier went on vacation to Niagara Falls and to learn more about
Stephens fatal ride over the falls in a barrel. Lussier became interested in
challenging Niagara Falls himself.
With a design in mind, Lussier went to an Akron, Ohio rubber company to develop
his idea. Lussier put up his life savings of $1,500 to finance his dream. It was
called a rubber ball being six feet in diameter with inner and outer steel
bands. It was lined with thirty-two inner tubes for shock protection with an
empty space in the middle for himself including an air cushion. Lussier weighed
154 pounds. The rubber ball had 150 pounds of hard rubber ballast for the bottom
to keep the ball from spinning head over bottom. Lussier had devised a system of
valves to provide air from tanks containing enough oxygen to keep him alive for
forty hours just in case he was trapped under the waterfalls.
On July 4th 1928, Lussier managed to elude police and rowed his ball out to the
middle of the Niagara River about two miles upstream of the Horseshoe Falls.
Here the ball carrying Lussier was cut free and began its journey towards the
falls. The 150 pound ballast bottom was ripped out from the bottom before the
ball reached the crest of the falls. At 3:35 p.m., the rubber ball went over the
Horseshoe Falls. Three inner tubes burst and the frame was badly damaged. At
4:23 p.m., the rubber ball was picked up by the Maid of the Mist boat and towed
back to shore. Lussier sustained only minor bruising.
In order to profit from his success, Lussier began selling off pieces of his
rubber ball to tourists. When he sold out Lussier began selling pieces of rubber
that he would purchase from a near by tire store. At the beginning of World War
Two, Lussier was rejected from service because of his age. Lussier worked in a
defense factory until the end of the war.
In 1952, at the age of 61 years Jean Lussier had a dream of being the only man
to ever go over the American Falls as well as the Horseshoe Falls. Lussier began
making plans for another ball device twice as big as the rubber one he had used
over the Horseshoe Falls. This ball would be 12 feet in diameter and weigh 550
with him included. The ball would have three layers made of cork, aluminium and
rubber with a series of braces. The inner ball would be mounted on roller
bearings in order to stay upright at all times. In addition it would have a
forty-eight hour air supply and a radio system. The dream ended with Jean
Lussier's advanced age. He retired in 1958 as did his dream.
Lussier died in his mid 70's while living in Niagara Falls, New York.
GEORGE L. STRATHAKIS 1930 (Died)
In 1930, George Strathakis came to Niagara Falls to challenge the Niagara River.
He was a 46 years old bachelor.
Strathakis was born in Greece in 1916. Before emigrating from Greece, he had
become a religious mystic. With no previous experience, Strathakis saw a way of
raising money for the publication of his books on metaphysical experiences.
George Strathakis lived in Buffalo, New York where he was employed as a chef.
Strathakis however wanted to become a professional writer.
Strathakis wrote in one of his yet unpublished books that he was born a thousand
years ago on the banks of the River Abraham in Central Africa. He spoke of
Niagara Falls in a mystical sense.
Strathakis would often take a rowboat into the Niagara River. Each trip would
take him closer to the Falls and the roar of the great thunder. The death of
Charles Stephens in 1920 and the success of Jean Lussier in 1928 provided
Strathakis with the desire to follow in their footsteps.
Strathakis and his friends began building a barrel. His plan called for the
creation of a two thousand pound vehicle. Rather than build on the successful
design of Lussier's rubber ball, Strathakis decided to construct his barrel on
the basic design utilized by Charles Stephens by using lots of wood and steel.
The size and strength of Strathakis' barrel proved impressive.
Strathakis rode his barrel over the Horseshoe Falls on July 5th 1930. The barrel
survived undamaged. George Strathakis made one very serious miscalculation. He
had taken with him an air supply for only eight hours. Strathakis' barrel became
stuck behind the Falls and was held for twenty-two hours before being released
in an eddy. When the barrel was recovered and the lip opened, Strathakis had
died of suffocation. Strathakis had taken his fondest friend - pet turtle
"Sonny" with him in the barrel. The turtle which was believed to be 150 years
old, survived the journey.
The medical examiner was Doctor W. Thompson. Following his death, no one claimed
the body of George Strathakis.
Of the seven human bearing barrels to go over the Horseshoe Falls, Strathakis'
barrel was the only one to ever get caught behind the wall of water.
One year later, Red Hill Sr. would ride in Strathakis' barrel through the rapids
and the whirlpool.
WILLIAM "RED" HILL Sr. 1930 (Survived)
William "Red" Hill Sr. was born in Niagara Falls, Ontario in 1888.
On May 30th 1930, a large crowd estimated at twenty-five thousand lined both
sides of the Niagara River from the Horseshoe Falls to Queenston - Lewiston to
witness a spectacular feat performed by legendary river man William "Red" Hill
Sr. At the age of 42 years, Hill Sr. was going to fulfil his promise to
challenge the Great Gorge Rapids and the Whirlpool from the docks of the Maid of
the Mist .
Hill Sr.'s barrel was of steel construction, six feet long and three feet in
diameter. Its interior was only five feet long because Hill Sr. had built in six
inch bulkheads at both ends. This barrel had a fourteen inch by eighteen inch
manhole to allow entry which was covered by a sliding steel cover sealed with
rubber gaskets. There were air holes on the sides of the barrel with were
plugged with cork to allow them to be opened in an emergency. It was weighted by
a steel keel welded to its bottom consisting of a one hundred and fifty pound
section of railroad track. The barrel was equipped with a harness system so that
Hill Sr. would lay prone but suspended away from the walls. The barrel weighed
620 pounds and was painted bright red with gold lettering with "William Red
Hill, Master Hero of Niagara inscribed on the sides.
At 1:15 p.m. May 30th 1930, Hill Sr. climbed into the barrel and set off on his
journey. Because of the eddies it took Hill Sr. one hour and forty minutes
before the river released his barrel and he was allowed to continue. His trip
through the rapids to the whirlpool took ninety seconds. At the whirlpool, the
barrel became stuck in the vortex. After three and a half hours, Hill Sr. and
his friends were able to free the barrel so Hill Sr. could resume his trip to
Queenston - Lewiston. Hill Sr. arrived at the Queenston docks at 6:15 p.m. where
he was met by thousands of people including his wife and sons Red Jr., Major and
Norman. He suffered a few minor bruises. He went back to work driving a taxi the
This was Hill Sr.'s second trip through the rapids. His first performance
occurred in 1910 using the barrel of Bobby Leach. Red Hill Sr. made his third
trip through the same rapids on Memorial Day 1931, using the barrel of George
Strathakis. Strathakis died in this barrel while attempting to go over the Falls
on July 5th 1930. Hill Sr. survived this trip as well but the barrel had sprung
a leak and was half full by the time it reached the Whirlpool. Again the barrel
became caught in the vortex. Only through the heroic efforts of his son William
"Red" Hill Jr. who swam out with a rope attached to his waist to tie onto the
barrel did Hill Sr. survive.
The next day Hill Sr. went back to the whirlpool and continued his journey in
the barrel to Queenston.
Red Hill Sr. had officially been credited with saving the lives of twenty-eight
persons from drowning. He received more lifesaving awards from the Canadian
Government than any man before or since.
Red Hill Sr. was the foremost expert in the knowledge of the rivers treacherous
tides, undertows, whirlpool and eddies. He had grown up near the gorge and it
was his playground. During his lifetime, Red Hill Sr. recovered the bodies of
one hundred and seventy-seven persons who had died from accidents or suicides.
Hill Sr. was a mighty swimmer, once having swam from the foot of the American
Falls through the boiling cauldron to the Canadian shore in a record time of
eleven minutes. He won his first Canadian Government lifesaving medal at the age
of nine years.
In February 1912, a spectacular tragedy known as the "Ice Bridge Disaster"
turned the spotlight on Hill Sr. in a large way. Shifting winds sent thousands
of tons of ice from Lake Erie over the Falls into the gorge below creating a
massive ice jam as thick as a hundred feet. Prior to 1912 both American and
Canadian Governments tolerated persons crossing over the ice bridge or building
Near noon on Sunday February 4th 1912, in below zero temperatures, the ice
bridge began to shake and groan. Red Hill Sr. was sitting in one of the shacks
with several of his friends. Hill Sr. sensed that the ice was breaking up and
made a dash to the Canadian shore. A short distance away he saw a small group of
tourists who appeared frozen by fear. Hill Sr. went back to them and ushered
them to shore with the exception of four people. An ice flow broke loose
carrying a pair of newly weds, Mr. & Mrs. Ellwood Stanton of Toronto and an
eighteen year old would be rescuer Burrell Peacock of Cleveland. All three
persons died as the ice flow on which they were riding reached the Great Gorge
On August 8th 1918, a scow engaged in dredging had broken loose of its mooring
above the upper rapids and drifted out of control towards the Horseshoe Falls.
Gustave Luffberg and Frank Harris, both dredging employees were on board the
scow. Frantically, they opened the two holes in the bottom of the scow dropping
its load. As a result the scow became caught on reef rocks only several hundred
feet from the brink of the Falls. A rescue boat could not be utilized to rescue
the two men . The United States Coast Guard however were called from Youngstown,
New York to assist. When they arrived they mounted their gun on the roof of the
Toronto Power House. The first shot to the scow with a rope was successful. A
line was strung from the power house to the scow. A breeches buoy followed the
line but became snarled half way across.
With night approaching, Red Hill Sr. went out hand over hand along the rope as
his body was tugged by the current of the rapids. Red Hill Sr. reached the
tangled breech buoy and was unable to untangle it in order to allow the rescue
of the crew of the scow without any loss of life.
Hill Sr. spent the waning years of his life showing off his barrel and selling
pictures of himself in a souvenir store. On May 14th 1942, William Red Hill Sr.
at the age of 54 years, died of a heart attack at the Niagara Falls Hospital.
WILLIAM "RED" HILL Jr. 1945 (Died)
William "Red" Hill Jr. had to fill the shoes of his father in order to carry on
the dramatic multi-headlined legend that his very name demanded that he uphold.
There is no doubt that he tried. Red Hill Jr. had helped out on most of his
fathers twenty-eight rescues. He helped his father in the recovery of 117 of 177
On his own Red Hill Jr. pulled another 28 dead bodies from the river.
Red Hill Jr. twice made the strenuous and dangerous swim from the base of the
American Falls to the Canadian shore, but he failed to equal his fathers time of
In order to match his father, Hill Jr. twice conquered the Great Gorge Rapids
and Whirlpool in a barrel.
Red Hill Jr. made his first trip on July 8th 1945. A crowd of two hundred
thousand had lined the banks of the Niagara River to watch this spectacle. In
order to thwart the police the exact time and starting point were not given
advance notice. Hill Jr. would be using a six feet long, 720 pound all steel
barrel. In order to create a diversion of his own he announced at 2:00 p.m. he
would launch at the Maid of the Mist dock while knowing full well that the
police would be there to stop him. The decoy strategy worked perfectly. The
bright red barrel had already been lowered down into the gorge just upstream of
the rapids during the predawn hours.
Shortly after 2:00 p.m., Red Hill Jr. climbed into the barrel and set out on his
journey. It was immediately caught in the forty-two mile per hour current and
drawn into the rapids. Just before reaching the actual rapids, the barrel was
struck by a cross wave and tossed twenty feet into the air and somersaulting
twice before landing back into the churning water. As the barrel hit the
Whirlpool it was caught by the vortex. Red Hill's brothers Major and Norman
rowed out and brought the barrel to shore. Hill Jr. complained of dizziness but
climbed back into his barrel to complete his journey to Queenston.
After completing the two and a half hour trip, Hill Jr. and his mother went to
Fairview Cemetery to lay a wreath on his fathers grave. Later that evening, Hill
Jr.'s mother suffered a heart attack.
Red Hill Jr. made his second trip through the rapids on September 6th 1948. This
time Hill Jr. used a barrel weighing approximately one thousand pounds. This
trip started the same as the first when the barrel was tossed approximately
forty feet in the air by a wave. Within five minutes the barrel entered the
Whirlpool where it spun out of control for more than an hour. From time to time
the strong vortex of the Whirlpool actually pulled the huge barrel under the
water surface. Again his brother saved Hill Jr. by pulling the barrel to shore.
Hill Jr. was badly bruised. Hill Jr. bailed out water from the barrel for an
hour before he climbed back into it to continue his journey to Queenston. Hill
Jr. arrived at the Queenston dock after his four and a half hour ordeal.
Red Hill Jr. acquired fame but the fortune eluded him. A month after his second
ride, a bailiff seized all of his goods and chattels for sale at a public
auction in order to satisfy three creditors. All three barrels the Hill family
had were taken away as well and sold for twenty-nine hundred dollars.
On the last Saturday of July 1949, Major Hill decided it was time to restore the
legends financial status. Major Hill age 38 years, challenged the Great Gorge
Rapids in a 625 pound torpedo shaped steel barrel. The barrel took such an awful
pounding that Major Hill had to be hauled up the gorge in a basket and
hospitalized. Major Hill's journey was a failure in terms of media coverage and
The dream of a fitting memorial to Red Hill Sr. weighed heavily on the shoulders
of Red Hill Jr. It was because of this unfulfilled desire the Hill Jr. began
planning to ride over the Horseshoe Falls.
Red Hill Jr. age 38 years, set his date with destiny for August 5th 1951.
Because of the lack of funds and support Hill Jr. had to build a cheap barrel.
Hill Jr. constructed what he would refer to as "the Thing", a contraption
consisting of thirteen large heavy duty inner tubes lashed together by three
inch wide canvass webbing. These were then encased in a heavy gauge fish
netting. Hill Jr. painted his contraption silver with the words "The Thing"
inscribed all around the tube.
The tube was launched at 1:30 p.m. from Ushers Creek located on the Canadian
shoreline approximately three miles upstream from the Horseshoe Falls. At 3:30
p.m. the tube with Red Hill Jr. inside rode through the upper rapids to the
brink of the Horseshoe falls and over. The vast crowd was silenced. The Thing
was caught under the extreme pressure of the falling water and broken apart.. It
was two minutes before parts of the rubber tubes began to surface. There was no
sign of Red Hill Jr. The silence was shattered by Hill Junior's mother
frantically calling out for him. Hill Junior's wife and ten year old daughter
joined his mother for the long vigil while his brothers: Major, Norman & Wesley
searched for his body.
The next morning the badly battered body of William Red Hill Jr. was found near
the Maid of the Mist dock. The lower part of his body was badly mangled and his
forehead had a large laceration. He was buried the following Thursday at
Fairview Cemetery in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Following the death of Red Hill Jr., there was a public outcry over his needless
death. This public condemnation resulted in then Ontario Premier: Leslie Frost
to issue a special order to the directors of the Niagara Parks Commission to
arrest anyone who commits an act of stunting upon the properties of the Niagara
Parks. Since that day, no permission has been granted to allow any stunting
within the park.
MAJOR LLOYD HILL 1949 (Survived)
Major Lloyd Hill was following in the foot steps of his famous daredevil family.
He was the son of William "Red" Hill Sr. and the brother of William "Red" Hill
Jr. both accomplished daredevils of Niagara.
On July 30th 1949, Major Lloyd Hill using a six hundred and fifty (650) pound
barrel successfully navigated the Whirlpool Rapids. Hill became stranded in the
Whirlpool and had to be rescued by the City of Niagara Falls Fire Department.
Major Hill caused quite a controversy the next day when he climbed back into his
barrel and continued his journey through the Lower Rapid (Devils Hole Rapids) to
Queenston. This portion of Hill's journey was successful.
On August 6th 1950, Major Lloyd Hill navigated the Whirlpool Rapids in a barrel
and circled the Whirlpool twice before floating to the calm waters near shore.
Major Hill's barrel was towed to entrance to the Lower Great Gorge before being
released to continue his journey to Queenston.
Hill's journey took two hours and 45 minutes, beating his brothers previous
record of five hours.
On July 31st 1954, Major Lloyd Hill made his third successful trip through the
Whirlpool Rapids in a barrel. When Hill arrived at the Whirlpool, he came ashore
at Colts Point terminus of the Spanish Aero Car. Here Ontario Provincial Police
were waiting to greet Hill. Major Hill was taken from the scene by the police.
Hill was not charged but the police had interrupted Hill's plan to continue to
On July 30th 1956, Major Lloyd Hill again rode through the Whirlpool Rapids in
his barrel. Hill was stranded in the Whirlpool for three hours before floating
close enough to shore. Hill jumped out of the barrel and swam to shore dragging
the barrel behind him. The barrel by this time had been partially filled with
seventy-nine gallons of water.
In a subsequent parachute accident, Major Hill severely injured one of his legs
that was later amputated.
Major Hill was murdered in 1974 in the City of Niagara Falls, Ontario.
TED MERCIER JOSEPH HAWRYLUK GRAHAM SCOTT 1954 (Survived)
On August 18th 1954, teenagers, Ted Mercier, Joseph Hawryluk and Graham Scott
swam across the Niagara River from the Canadian shore near Seneca Street to the
American shore approximately 400 yards downstream. The river current had carried
the youths this lengthy distance from their starting point. The boys were not
charged by the police for their prank.
CLAUS R. KIRKOFF 1957 (Survived)
On October 1st 1957, Claus R. Kirkoff, a former German swimming instructor
successfully swam through the Lower Rapids (Devils Hole Rapids) in an attempt to
gain illegal entry into the United States of American from which he had been
Kirkoff had earlier tried to cross into the USA on the mistaken belief that the
Spanish Aero Car would carry him across the border. He did not know that the
Spanish Aero Car crosses the width of the Whirlpool from Canadian terminus to
ROGER WOODWARD 1960 (Survived)
Roger Woodward was a victim of a tragic set of circumstances that resulted in
the death of Mr. James Honeycutt. Roger Woodward and his older sister Deanne
narrowly escaped with their lives.
Roger Woodward was not a daredevil or a stunt man. The fact that he was swept
over the Horseshoe Falls was not his choice by design or otherwise.
The story of this tragic accident is listed under this section not because Roger
Woodward was a daredevil but rather his survival was nothing less than a
On July 9th 1960, a seven year old boy named Roger Woodward became the first
person to survive a plunge over the Falls without a barrel.
Woodward and his 17 year old sister Deanne, both of Niagara Falls, New York set
out that day on a harmless boat ride on the upper Niagara River with family
friend James Honeycutt. Honeycutt , age 40 years, of Raleigh, North Carolina,
was a contractor at the Niagara Parks Commission hydro project. He had often
taken the Woodward children out for a boat ride on his fourteen foot long
aluminum boat with a seven and a half horsepower outboard motor. Mr. & Mrs.
Frank Woodward trusted Honeycutt completely.
Honeycutt and the Woodward children began the boat ride about five miles
upstream of the Falls where Honeycutt was living in a house trailer at the Lynch
Trailer camp along the American shoreline.
Approximately one mile upstream of the Horseshoe Falls, Honeycutt began to turn
the boat in the opposite direction when the boat motor malfunctioned and quit
running. On examining the engine, Honeycutt discovered that the propeller pin
had sheared off. Honeycutt began rowing frantically towards the shore but the
current was carrying the boat ever so quickly towards the Falls. Honeycutt
ordered the Woodward children to put on their life-preservers. Honeycutt was too
busy rowing to have time to put his life-preserver on.
Near the Falls the waves capsized the boat separating Deanne from her brother
Roger and Mr. Honeycutt. Deanne held onto the side of the boat until a wave
forced her under water. When she surfaced, she saw two men standing on the
shore. John Hayes, age 44 years, a truck driver from Voxhall, New Jersey was
visiting Terrapin Point on Goat Island when he saw Deanne in the water. Hayes
grabbed Deanne by her fingers and called for help. John Quattrochi, age 39
years, a tourist from Pennsgrove, New Jersey came to help Hayes. Both men
successfully pulled Deanne from the water.
Roger Woodward was in Honeycutt's arms as they approached the Horseshoe Falls.
The raging water pulled them apart as they rode over the crest of the Falls.
Roger Woodward was wearing swimming trunks and a pair of running shoes. The
shoes were ripped from his feet on his way down the cascade. Woodward was forced
into the 180 foot deep water at the base of the Falls but was quickly freed
where he floated to the surface.
It was 12:55 p.m., when the crew of the Maid of the Mist spotted tiny Roger
Woodward bobbing up and down in the water. Captain Clifford Keech was at the
wheel of the 270 foot long Maid of the Mist II. After eight minutes and three
approaches to rescue Roger Woodward by using a life ring.
Roger Woodward was taken to the Greater Niagara General Hospital in Niagara
Falls, Ontario. He sustained only minor cuts and bruises. Deanne Woodward was
taken to Memorial Hospital in Niagara Falls, New York suffering from nothing
more than shock James Honeycutt was battered and drowned.
NATHAN T. BOYA aka: WILLIAM A. FITZGERALD 1961 (Survived)
On July 15th 1961, Nathan T. Boya, age 30 years, a black man from the Bronx in
New York challenged the mighty Falls unannounced and emerged virtually
unscathed. Boya claimed the trip was not for fame or fortune but rather for
The craft the Nathan Boya had built was a sphere of steel frame construction six
feet in diameter. Covering the steel frame was a six ply rubber cover followed
by a sheet metal cover and another ply of rubber. The ball was nicknamed
"Plunge-O-Sphere" and weighed 1,200 pounds including Boya's own weight.
Learning from the past, Boya installed an oxygen system capable of providing air
for thirty hours. Inside the sphere Boya carried a banner which read "
Plunge-O-Sphere, Step from your PIT OF DARKNESS, into the light - Dell". Boya
refused to say what the meaning of the banner was.
Boya launched his craft from an undisclosed location upstream of the Falls along
the American Shoreline. It appears that the sphere containing Boya was towed
into Canadian waters, otherwise the sphere would have gone over the American
Falls instead of the Horseshoe Falls.
A week before Boya made his journey he met with Jean Lussier who made his own
trip over the Falls July 4th 1928. Lussier advised Boya to insure his safety by
taking sufficient oxygen with him. Boya added 13 canisters of oxygen and a
re-breather a device which converts carbon dioxide to oxygen.
Boya said he had been in the water a good length of time before reaching the
upper rapids. Boya said when he entered the rapids the sphere felt like it
dropped fifty feet. The sphere was upside down for several moments before
righting itself. Boya's sphere went over the Horseshoe Falls nearer to the
American side. Boya said he didn't feel the fall over the Falls except when the
sphere bounced off a rock at the bottom causing a large dent to the outer skin
of the ball. during the trip Boya opened the hinged door in his craft to view
his progress. Boya was pawing at the hatch to pull it down when the Maid of the
Mist launch the "Little Sister" came along side of the sphere and a police
officer arrested Boya for his journey without the permission of the Niagara
Boya was subsequently fined $100 plus $13 court costs in Niagara Falls Ontario
Nathan Boya remained a mystery man. He refused to provide any information about
his occupation other than to say he was self employed. Several news reports said
that Boya was really William A. Fitzgerald, a maintenance man at IBM.
Headquarters in New York, New York. Boya denied these reports however a check of
the address he had given in the Bronx revealed no one by the name of Boya lived
there. When asked about his feat, Boya said he did not consider it to be a
daredevil stunt but that it was just something he had to do.
Nathan Boya was the seventh person to conquer the Falls and live. He returned to
Niagara Falls only once, on July 15th 1962, the first anniversary date of his
Nathan Boya became a doctor after earning a doctorate in sociology and post
doctorate medical behaviour. He became a Fellow of Faculty at a medical school
in New York City.
RAYMOND WEAVER 1961 (Survived)
Raymond Weaver, a 39 year old man from Niagara Falls, New York challenged the
Great Gorge Rapids and the Whirlpool during the summer of 1961.
Weaver had built a boat weighing eight hundred pounds and containing six hundred
pounds of ballast. It was fourteen and a half long and of steel construction.
The boat was constructed of twelve and sixteen gauge steel plate and the top
entirely covered as well. A three and a half horsepower outboard motor propelled
At 5:30 a.m. on July 28th 1961, Weaver began his journey near the Maid of the
Mist dock. Weaver was strapped inside the boat and was wearing a safety helmet.
The boat successfully navigated the Great Gorge Rapids. As it entered the
Whirlpool, the boat motor had become water logged and quit functioning. The
vortex of the Whirlpool caught the boat and held it in a vice grip for the
following four hours before changing currents allowed its release. Weaver
completed his journey to the Queenston dock. The total trip took seven hours to
By now, technology and vessel construction had improved significantly lowering
the risk levels of the stunt participants. Interest by the citizens and the
media was beginning to wane.
KARL HEINZ KOCH 1964 (Survived)
During the summer of 1964, Karl Heinz Koch, a swimming instructor from Germany
was arrested by police for swimming in the Niagara River approximately 200 yards
downstream (north) of the American Falls.
At the time of his arrest, Koch said "I was hot and I didn't see any sign saying
no swimming, so I took a little dip".
BRUCE CURTIS RONALD HESS 1969 (Survived)
On July 14th 1969, Bruce Curtis and his friend Ronald Hess of La Salle, New York
survived a ride through the Lower Rapids (Devils Hole Rapids) riding on a five
and a half (5½) foot diameter tractor inner tube. They said they did it because
they thought it looked like fun. Both boys regularly went swimming at Devils
JOHN KAZIAN 1971 (Survived)
On September 2nd 1971, John Kazian stood on the wing of a single engine stunt
plane piloted over Niagara Falls by Joe Hughes. During this aerial exhibition,
Kazian performed several other tricks as well.
NIAGARA WHITE WATER RAFT COMPANY 1972 (commercial business)
On May 23rd 1972, a fledgling commercial enterprise named the Niagara White
Water Raft Company made its first successful trip through the Whirlpool Rapids
in a white water raft.
On May 25th 1972, a second successful trip was made through the Whirlpool Rapids
in a similar raft. Passengers for this trip were recruited from local media
personnel and family members and friends of the Niagara White Water Raft
The rapids raft rides were discontinued on August 14th 1972 following a number
of accidents where passengers were thrown into the turbulent water of the
On August 20th 1972, the Niagara White Water raft Company launched a shorter and
much safer commercial raft ride. This new ride took passengers from Lewiston,
New York upriver to an area of the Lower Rapids (Devils Hole Rapids below the
Niagara Glen. This ride was successful but only continued until September 1st
HENRI JULIEN RECHATIN 1974,1975 (Survived)
Henri Julien Rechatin was born in France in 1932. He was the only son of his
famous acrobatic parents, the Pierrodys. The French speaking Rechatin was taught
by his father to juggle and tumble. Rechatin graduated to low wire balancing
acts in circuses throughout Europe.
In 1966, at the age of 34 years, Henri Rechatin set a world endurance record on
high wire balancing. For two hundred thirteen hours and fifteen minutes,
Rechatin balanced himself on a wire cable one thousand one hundred feet above
the ground on a three thousand nine hundred foot cable stretched across the
Loire River Valley in France.
On January 14th 1967, Europe's top tight rope artist came to Niagara Falls along
with his wife Janyck. Henri Rechatin was 35 years old, weighed one hundred and
fifty-eight pounds and was five feet seven inched in height.
In order to bring back the fire of desire and thrill to the citizens and media
of Niagara to level only experienced in yesteryear, Rechatin made several
proposals to conduct high wire acts across the Niagara River at various points
along the gorge throughout the entire year. The year 1967 was the Centennial
Birthday of Canada and special celebrations were being planned in cities and
towns all across the Nation. Rechatin initially proposed to perform a high wire
act on a wire of less than one inch in diameter across the one thousand eight
hundred foot width of the Whirlpool approximately two hundred feet above the
churning waters below. Rechatin further proposed that the first performance
could take place on May 7th 1967. His wife Janyck would assist him.
Henri Rechatin was a very experienced high wire performer and had the
credentials to back up his bravado. Rechatin quite often drew similarities
between the Great Blondin and himself. Rechatin vowed to do trick that Blondin
had performed and more.
On February 11th 1967, the Niagara Parks Commission refused to allow the
proposal of Henri Rechatin to take place. Rechatin and his wife returned to
their home in St. Etienne, France.
On May 26th 1975, Henri Rechatin and his wife returned to Niagara Falls. This
time he proposed to be the first person to remove a straight jacket while
hanging upside down form a helicopter while hovering over the Falls. When
authorities threatened Rechatin with charges if he proceeded, it was sufficient
for Rechatin to abandon that idea.
Shortly after 9:00 a.m. on June 3rd 1975, Henri Rechatin appeared at the top of
the Skylon Tower observation deck level five hundred and twenty feet above the
ground. Working from a small eight foot by three foot wooden platform on the
outer edge of the deck, Rechatin began a chair balancing act only inches from
instant death. Using two oak chairs, Rechatin balanced the bottom chair on the
wooden platform nearest the outer edge. Rechatin placed the second chair on top
of the first and balanced it so that only the rear legs of this chair were
touching the seat of the first chair. Rechatin climbed sat onto the second chair
and remained balanced without using his feet or arms for support. Despite low
clouds and mist from the Falls, this act only lasted thirty seconds but Rechatin
performed this same feat three times in order to facilitate the media.
The very next day on June 4th 1975, at 4:30 a.m., Henri Rachatin, his wife
Janyck and motorcycle driver Frank Lucas of Toulouse, France assembled at the
Southern terminal of the Spanish Aero car above the Whirlpool. At 6:30 a.m.,
without permission and without fanfare, the trio began crossing the Whirlpool on
the existing cable that supported the Spanish Aero car. Gradually creeping out
onto the greasy cable, Lucas began to drive his specially modified motorcycle.
The cycle had a metal frame constructed above it so that Rechatin could stand
above it and a metal frame below the cycle so that Janyck could hang upside down
by one of her feet. This crossing had been well planned in advance. In the
middle of the crossing the wind began blowing and the rear wheel on the
motorcycle began slipping. Frank Lucas had no previous experience. He did
however win the French National Moto-Cross Championships in 1966, 1967, and
1968. When the trio had come within fifteen feet of the Northern terminal (where
the Spanish Aero Car is kept when closed) Rechatin took a balance pole from the
upper frame and began wire walking the rest of the way to the shore. Rechatin
then attached a rope to the motorcycle and pulled it as close to the Aero Car as
possible. Rechatin helped his wife and Lucas into the Aero Car where they
remained until the ride operator arrived for work at 7:30 a.m. Upon the arrival
of the operator the Spanish Aero Car containing the trio were returned to the
Southern terminal where Police by now were waiting. Rechatin was arrested for
performing a dangerous act however formal charged against him were not proceeded
In May of 1976, Henri Rechatin came back to Niagara Falls with his wife and
their eight year old daughter Corine. Rechatin had arranged to perform a fifteen
day wire walk endurance test on Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls, Ontario beginning
on the early morning of May 27th 1976.
Two forty-seven foot high steel towers were constructed between Ripley's Believe
It Or Not Museum and the Hollywood Wax Museum located fifty-nine feet away.
Utilizing a five-eighths of an inch diameter cable, Rechatin would perform four
acts per day for the tourists below. Rachatins' only refuge was a wooden three
foot by three foot platform nearest the Ripley's Museum. Here he would eat, use
for washroom purposes and take twenty minute catnaps. Rachatin's fifteen day
ordeal ended on June 7th 1976. During his last performance, Rechatin carried a
tourist named Christina Montgomery age 21 years across the wire on his back.
On June 8th 1976, a Rechatin proposal to wire walk across the Niagara River
above the Falls was refused by New York State Parks authorities. A 1995 Rechatin
proposal to recreate his 1975 wire walk across the Whirlpool on the cables of
the Spanish Aero Car was refused by the Niagara Parks Commission. In 1996, Henri
Julien Rechatin is now 63 years of age.
EDWARD A. FRIEDLAND 1974 (Survived)
On June 28th 1974, Edward Friedland a wannabe stunt man rode a rubber dinghy
through the Whirlpool Rapids into the Whirlpool. Once in the Whirlpool,
Friedland became stranded in the twirling boat. A sightseeing helicopter made a
dramatic flight into the Whirlpool Gorge to rescue Friedland.
Friedland had planned this stunt in order to draw attention to himself so that
he might get a job as a stuntman with a movie production company which happened
to be making a movie in the Niagara area.
JIM SARTEN 1975 (Survived)
Jim Sarten was a professional stuntman working for Playboy Productions during
the filming of the television movie "The Mighty Niagara". As part of the
production, the film company made a raft made from a few planks and empty oil
drums with the intention of floating it through the Whirlpool Rapids. Permission
had been received from both Governments with the understanding that a dummy
would be sent on the raft rather than a human.
On July 4th 1975, as this stunt began, Jim Sarten took the place of the dummy
and rode the raft through the Whirlpool Rapids to the Whirlpool.
Sarten was rescued from the Whirlpool nearly dead. He had to be revived and
rushed to hospital.
Playboy Productions was fined $75 for allowing a stunt to be performed contrary
to the Niagara Parks Act.
NIAGARA GORGE RIVER TRIPS INCORPORATED 1975 (3 Died)
In 1975, Niagara Gorge River Trips Inc. began operation of a white water rafting
business through the Whirlpool Rapids. The raft utilized was a prototype rubber
raft made by the Zodiac Company of France.
On August 29th 1975, during the eleventh trial run through the Whirlpool Rapids,
with 29 passengers aboard and a crew of four, the rubber raft capsized in the
Whirlpool Rapids. All the occupants of the raft were thrown into the rapids.
Some of the occupants were trapped under the overturned raft.
Three of the passengers died of drowning. Miraculously, 30 people survived after
a very heroic rescue by members of the various emergency services in both
MR. X aka: James Randi 1975 (Survived)
On February 7th 1975, an unidentified man (Mr. X) working for a Toronto film
company was dangled over the precipice of the Horseshoe Falls at the Table Rock
by a crane for five minutes while strapped into a strait jacket.
This stunt was performed for a television program and permission to conduct this
stunt was received from the Niagara Parks Commission.
KENNETH W. LAGERGREN 1977 (Survived)
KENNETH W. LAGERGREN CHRIS SPELIUS DON WHEEDON CARRIE ASHTON 1981 (Survived)
On October 14th 1981, professionals, Kenneth Lagergren, Chris Spelius, Don
Wheedon and Carrie Ashton rode through the Whirlpool Rapids in kayaks in
conjunction with the ABC - TV program "The American Sportsman". All survived
unharmed despite that one kayak tipped over for twenty seconds before being
The Niagara Parks Commission permitted this exhibition because it was considered
KAREL SOUCEK 1977,1984 (Survived)
On June 11th 1977, Karel Soucek made a successful trip through the Whirlpool
Rapids in a barrel. In the Whirlpool, Soucek became stranded for three hours.
Upon his rescue, Soucek was arrested by Niagara Parks police and charged with
performing a stunt without a license.
On July 2nd 1984, Karel Soucek, age 37 years, of Hamilton, Ontario challenged
the mighty Horseshoe Falls in a homemade barrel. Soucek would become the first
person to attempt the dangerous journey over the Falls in twenty-three years.
Soucek was born in Czechoslovakia on April 19th 1947. Soucek advertised himself
as the "Last of the Niagara Daredevils".
Soucek began planning well in advance and was talking publicly about his
intentions for at least a year in advance.
On July 22nd 1976, Soucek attempted to cross the Whirlpool on a moped by using
the cables of the Spanish Aero Car. This attempt failed after he had traveled
twenty (20) feet (6m) when his moped hit a bolt and was derailed. A safety
harness worn by Soucek saved his life by preventing him falling into the
turbulent waters of the Whirlpool below.
Soucek had built a specially designed barrel of lightweight metal and plastic
with enough ballast in one end to ensure a plunge feet first. The barrel was
equipped with a two-way radio. Soucek spent fifteen thousand dollars to prepare
for his journey. Soucek had previously rode an all steel barrel through the
Great Gorge Rapids to the Whirlpool on two occasions. Soucek's dream was to go
over the falls and become the fifth person to do so and live.
At around 9:30 a.m. on July 2nd 1984, four assistants pushed the red colored
barrel with Karel Soucek inside from the back of a truck several hundred yards
upstream of the Horseshoe Falls along the Canadian shore. The barrel was
launched without interruption. The barrel with the name "Karel Soucek" written
on its side in large letters moved quickly down river and over the Horseshoe
Falls at 75 miles per hour. The ballast worked perfectly for the 3.2 second trip
over the Falls. Soucek later described it as similar to a skydiver's free fall.
When the barrel hit the water below, it rebounded causing the wristwatch on
Soucek's left arm to strike his forehead causing numerous facial cuts and
bruises. For forty-five minutes the barrel bounced off the rocks at the base of
the Falls . Soucek who had lots of oxygen just relaxed and awaited release by
the changing water currents. When the barrel was released it was quickly
recovered and brought to shore.
Soucek walked away from the barrel and was lifted to the surface and taken to
the Greater Niagara General Hospital in Niagara Falls, Ontario for minor cuts
and bruises. Soucek was charged by the police and his barrel confiscated. It was
a dream come true for Soucek and he became the eight person to conquer the
On July 11th 1984, Karel Soucek was fined $500 in Niagara Falls Ontario
provincial Court for his barrel stunt.
On January 19th 1985, Karel Soucek was killed during a free fall stunt at the
Houston Astrodome in front of forty-five thousand spectators. A barrel measuring
approximately six (6) feet long with Soucek on board was lifted by a crane to
the roof of the Astro Dome. When released the barrel was to fall into a large
tank filled with water. The tank was ten (10) feet in diameter so the stunt was
extremely difficult . When the barrel was released, a piece of wood nailed to
the bottom of the barrel struck the side as it entered the tank. Foam pads which
were supposed to have been secured to the base of the water tank had floated to
the surface before the drop. As the barrel dropped the water and foam pads
failed to cushion Soucek's decent. The force of the sudden impact resulted in
Soucek sustaining massive internal injuries which resulted in his death.
Karel Soucek is buried at Drummond Hill Cemetery in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
STEVEN TROTTER 1985 (Survived)
STEVEN TROTTER LORI MARTIN 1995 (Survived)
On November 12th 1984, Steven Trotter made his first attempt to go over Niagara
Falls in a barrel. It was an unsuccessful attempt when his barrel became hung up
on rocks upriver of the Falls. Trotter was in a barrel called "the Rig" which
cost Trotter $6,200 to build. Trotter was fined $500 in Niagara Falls Ontario
During the summer of 1985, a 22 year old part time bartender from Barrington,
Rhode Island came to Niagara to conquer the Falls. Steven Trotter brought with
him a contraption made of two plastic pickle barrels surrounded by large rubber
inner tubes and covered by a tarpaulin.
At 8:30 a.m. on August 18th 1985, Trotter began his solo journey from a location
just upstream from the Horseshoe Falls. A short time later, Trotter went over
the crest of the Falls falling to the water below. Steven Trotter had survived
the plunge uninjured. He became the youngest person to ever survive this stunt.
Trotter had gained a short lived notoriety and appeared on several national
television talk shows before disappearing from the public eye.
Steven Trotter returned to Niagara Falls in 1995, the tenth anniversary of his
initial conquest. At the age of 32 years, Trotter of Fort Lauderdale, Florida
returned to Niagara falls to challenge the Falls for a second time. On this
occasion he brought his girlfriend Lori Martin, age 29 years of Atlanta,
Georgia. They would go over the Falls together this time.
Trotter brought with him a newly constructed barrel. The barrel was twelve feet
long and was made from two pieces of water heater tanks welded together and
coated by kevlar. The barrel contained four oxygen tanks capable of providing
air for one hour and twenty minutes. The barrel weighed nine hundred pounds and
cost approximately nineteen thousand dollars.
At 9:30 a.m. on June 18th 1995, the barrel containing Trotter and Martin was
launched approximately one hundred yards above the brink of the Horseshoe Falls
along the shore of the Canadian side. The barrel went over the Falls but became
caught in the rocks below. Emergency Services personnel were required to risk
their own lives by climbing over the guard rail in one of the two observation
tunnels under the Table Rock Pavilion to secure the barrel and pull Trotter and
Martin to safety.
Both were taken to the Greater Niagara General Hospital for treatment of minor
bruises. Trotter and Martin were subsequently arrested for their illegal stunt.
The barrel remained in the water for nine days until it could be removed by use
of a crane. After paying the costs incurred in the retrieval of the barrel,
Steven Trotter's had the barrel returned to him. Steven Trotter and Lori Martin
became the second couple to journey over the Falls together in a barrel and live
to talk about it.
PHILLIPE PETIT 1986
Phillipe Petitt was born in France in 1949.
On August 12th 1974, Petitt came to Niagara Falls with a proposal to challenge
the Niagara River. Petitt planned a high wire walk between Prospect Point Park
in Niagara Falls, New York and the Table Rock at the brink of the Horseshoe
Falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
On August 19th 1974, the Niagara Parks Commission refused Petitt's proposal.
On September 18th 1974, Petitt left Niagara to join the Ringling Brothers &
Barnum and Baily Circus. One of the most famous high wire walks performed by
Petitt was between the World Trade Towers in New York City at one thousand three
hundred and fifty feet above ground level.
On October 3rd 1986, Phillipe Petitt returned to Niagara Falls. Petitt was
employed by the film crew shooting the Imax movie entitled "Niagara Miracle,
Myths and Magic" Petitt was paid to re-enact the feats of Blondin and was
required to walk on a fifty foot long high wire one hundred and seventy feet
above the Canadian shore.
JOHN DAVID MUNDAY 1985,1993 (Survived)
John David Munday was born in 1937. He lives in Caistor Center, a rural
community in the Township of West Lincoln, Ontario. Munday is a diesel mechanic
by trade. He owns and operates a diesel company in nearby Hamilton, Ontario.
Munday is the divorced father of two adult daughters.
Dave Munday was a skydiving instructor with 1,400 jumps under his belt. In
addition Munday is an accomplished helicopter and fixed wing aircraft pilot.
Dave Munday had a twenty year obsession to go over the Falls in a barrel.
During the summer of 1985, David Munday came to Niagara Falls to challenge the
raw power of the Niagara River.
On July 28th 1985 at approximately 1:00 p.m., a truck carrying Munday's barrel
pulled up to a Canadian shoreline site approximately two and a half miles
upstream of the Falls. At this location a silver and red aluminium and
unbreakable plastic barrel measuring two meters wide by one meter long with the
words " To Challenge Niagara July 1985" inscribed on the side was launched with
Munday inside. Munday had the dream of becoming the ninth person to go over the
Falls. The last person to go over the Falls was Karl Soucek.
Munday's barrel weighed nine hundred pounds and cost sixteen thousand dollars to
build. Munday had been planning this project for two years. Unfortunately, this
launch was witnessed by a Police Officer. As Munday rode his barrel towards the
brink of the Falls. Ontario Hydro were alerted and the water level reduced by
controlling the water at the Hydro Control Dam. The water level dropped five
feet in three minutes, trapping Munday and his barrel in the Hydro power pool
still a long distance from the Horseshoe Falls. Munday had been foiled but only
for a short time.
Dave Munday would become the most persistent of all the daredevils. On October
5th 1985, at approximately 9:00 a.m., Munday returned to Niagara Falls. This
time Munday's barrel with Munday inside was unloaded from the back of a truck
and launched into the water within one hundred and fifty yards of the brink of
the Horseshoe Falls, The barrel went over the Horseshoe Falls in seconds. At the
base the barrel became trapped in an eddy for ninety minutes before Munday was
rescued by river man, Ken Sloggett.
Dave Munday became the ninth person to survive the trip over the Falls. Munday
received only minor abrasions. Munday had video taped his own fall using a video
camera shot through a porthole.
Munday was fined $500 for stunting in the Niagara Parks and $1000 for breach of
probation in Niagara Falls Ontario Provincial Court.
On September 26th 1987 at 2:49 a.m., Police on patrol discovered a six foot long
barrel with the name of "Dave Munday" inscribed on the side on top of the
Niagara Gorge just South of the Whirlpool Bridge opposite Queen Street. The
barrel was seized by Police ending Munday's attempt to challenge the Great Gorge
Rapids and the Whirlpool.
On October 11th 1987, Dave Munday did successfully journey through the Great
Gorge Rapids and the Whirlpool in the same barrel. Two hours after Munday's
trip, Nolan Whitsell age 35 of Atlanta Georgia successfully guided an open 4.2
meter plastic canoe through the Great Gorge Rapids and the Whirlpool.
On November 12th 1987, Munday was fined $500 and given two years probation in
Niagara Falls Ontario Provincial Court.
On July 16 1990 at 5:00 a.m., Dave Munday again tried to ride a barrel over the
Horseshoe Falls in a homemade steel barrel. The barrel was built from one
quarter inch thick steel pipe covered by 20 cm. of thick foam. The barrel cost
one thousand dollars and had no provision for oxygen. Again because of the low
morning water levels, Munday's barrel was caught up on the rocks at the brink of
the Horseshoe Falls. Interestingly, Munday could not swim and he hated the
water. To him, suffocation was the most terrifying way to die.
On September 26th 1993 at 8:35 a.m., Dave Munday survived his second successful
trip over the Horseshoe Falls. Munday was riding in a six hundred and sixty
pound converted diving bell that he had purchased from the Canadian Coast Guard.
It took one year to refit. The vehicle was painted with a red maple leaf motif.
The diving bell also contained two hundred pounds of ballast. During his
journey, Munday was knocked unconscious, had sustained minor bruises and cuts.
The vehicle was recovered at the base of the Falls by the little Maid of the
In 1996, Dave Munday celebrated his 59th birthday. Will he try again...only Dave
PETER DeBERNARDI JEFFREY PETKOVICH 1989 (Survived)
In September of 1989, Peter DeBernardi and Jeffrey Petkovich came to the Falls
to challenge the Niagara River. DeBernardi was a 42 year old man form Niagara
Falls, Ontario. He was the father of a young daughter and was an ex stock car
driver. DeBernardi was unemployed but took up the cause of helping drug addicts
Petkovich was a 24 year old student of the University of Ottawa in Ottawa,
Ontario. DeBernardi and Petkovich met only eight weeks prior.
DeBernardi had been planning to ride a barrel over the Falls with another friend
however at the last minute, DiBernardi's friend decided not to go. As a result
DeBernardi met Petkovich.
DeBernardi had built a one thousand five hundred dollar barrel. It was
constructed of three sixteenth of an inch thick steel plate, twelve feet long
and four and a half feet in diameter. The barrel weighed one thousand five
hundred pounds and had a keel for direction. In addition, the barrel had a two
way radio system, ninety minutes of oxygen supply with a ballast control and a
double hatch assembly. It had double Plexiglas widows so that he and Petkovich
could see outside.
On September 28th 1989 at 5:30 p.m., DeBernardi and Petkovich both resting head
to head inside the barrel began their journey. The barrel was launched two
hundred feet from the brink of the Horseshoe Falls. Twenty-five seconds later,
the bright yellow barrel with the inscription "Don't Put Yourself On The Edge -
Drugs Kill" went over the brink of the Falls and fell to the water below. When
recovered by the Maid of the Mist dock both DeBernardi and Petkovich were
uninjured. Petkovich had been drinking and got out of the barrel wearing only a
neck tie and a pair of cowboy boots.
DeBernardi and Petkovich became the first two persons in a barrel to go over the
Falls and the eleventh and twelfth persons to take the plunge.
On August 14th 1990, a second attempt to go over the Falls together was thwarted
by New York State Parks Police in Niagara Falls, New York when a patrolling
Officer stopped a truck carrying DeBernardi's ten foot diameter yellow Styrofoam
ball contraption that was destined to go over the American Falls.
JESSIE W. SHARP 1990 (Died)
Jessie W. Sharp was a 28 year old bachelor from Ocoee, Tennessee when he came to
Niagara Falls to challenge the Niagara River. Sharp was an unemployed at the
time and was an experienced kayaker.
On June 5th 1990, Sharp attempted to ride over the Horseshoe Falls in a twelve
foot long, thirty-six pound polyethylene kayak. Jessie Sharp had planned this
trip for three years. He brought with him a crew of three persons to video tape
his journey into the darkness of the river. Sharp's motive for trying this stunt
was to further his career in stunting. Jessie Sharp did not wear any protective
helmet so it would not cover his face for the video. He also did not wear a
life-preserver because he thought it would hamper his escape if he was caught
under the Falls. After going over the Falls, Sharp planned on kayaking through
the Great Gorge Rapids through the Whirlpool to the docks at Queenston. Here he
had made supper reservations at the Queenston Park Restaurant.
Jessie Sharp was filmed going over the Falls in his Kayak. Sharp was never seen
again nor his body ever been recovered. Another stunt of suicidal proportions.
ROBERT OVERACKER 1995 (Died)
Robert Overacker, a 39 year old man from Camarillo, California challenged the
Niagara River and the mighty Horseshoe Falls at 12:35 p.m. on October 1st 1995.
Riding on a single jet ski, Overacker launched himself into the Niagara River
upstream of the Falls from the area of the Canadian Niagara Power Plant . Robert
Overacker rode his jet ski directly at the brink of the Horseshoe Falls.
At the brink of the Falls, Overacker ignited a rocket propelled parachute that
was strapped to his back. His plan was that the rocket would quickly deploy the
parachute allowing him to safely land in to river below the Horseshoe Falls
where he could be rescued. Overacker did ignite the rocket which deployed the
parachute as planned. Unfortunately as the parachute deployed it fell away from
Overacker to the ground below. Unknown to Overacker the parachute was not
tethered to his body. The parachute was not packed by Overacker prior to the
stunt and he was unaware of this fatal error. His step-brother and a friend
witnessed this unfolding tragedy as Overacker fell to his death to the water
below the Falls.
Robert Overacker was married and had no children. Overacker became the fifteenth
person since 1901 to challenge the Falls. Robert Overacker challenged the
Niagara River and paid with his life. His body was recovered by staff at the
Maid of the Mist.
KIRK JONES 2003 (Survived)
On Monday October 20th 2003 at 12:45 p.m., Kirk Raymond Jones became the first
human in recorded history to go over the Horseshoe Falls unaided and survive
virtually unscathed. The most remarkable aspect was that he did so without any
safety and/or flotation device.
The 40 year old, single and unemployed man from Canton Michigan (south of
Detroit) came to the City of Niagara Falls on Saturday October 18th along with a
his friend Bob Krueger of Garden City, Michigan. Both spend several nights at a
local motel on Lundy's Lane before his actual stunt. In preparation , Jones had
bought a used video camera. His plan was to have Krueger video record Jones'
feat for prosperity, historical and perhaps for financial reasons. Unfortunately
Krueger didn't learn to properly operate the video camera before the event and
did not capture any part of it on videotape.
Kirk Jones carried through with his plan of jumping into to upper Niagara River
approximately 20 feet from the brink of the Horseshoe Falls at the Table Rock of
the Niagara Parks Commission property along the Canadian shore. Jones, wearing
only the clothes on his back, was quickly swept over the Falls (170 feet) to the
plunge pool basin below.
Seconds later Kirk Jones emerged from the turbulent waters below and was able to
pull himself to safety onto a rock a short distance away from the cataracts.
Here he remained stranded until the arrival of emergency service personnel who
rescued him from his precarious perch and transported him to the top of the
gorge. Jones was transported to the Greater Niagara General Hospital suffering
only minor rib injuries.
Kirk Jones was admitted to the psychiatric unit on an involuntary basis pending
an assessment. Jones stated that his stunt wasn't a stunt at all but a failed
attempt at suicide. Others close to Jones including family members contradict
this view and have indicated that Kirk Jones had planned to go over the Falls as
a stunt for the fame and fortune including gainful employment which he believed
The planning process was described as very unsophisticated and unscientific.
Whatever the motive, Kirk Raymond Jones has etched his name forever in the
annals of Niagara Falls daredevil history.
Jones was subsequently arrested upon his release from hospital and charged with
Mischief and Performing a Stunt with the Niagara Parks.
On December 18th 2003, Jones returned to court. He plead guilty to both charged
and was fined $3,000 and in addition was ordered to reimburse the Niagara Parks
- Journey Behind the Falls attraction $1,408 for the money they lost during the
45 minutes the attraction had closed to facilitate Jones rescue.
Jones has since been employed by the Toby Tyler Circus of Texas to perform as
yet undefined stunts.