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Niagara Falls Daredevils Week [Day 2]

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Our week-long look at Niagara Falls daredevils continues today with the amazing-but-true tale of A. E. Taylor, the first person to go over the Falls in a barrel. As we’ll see, Taylor hoped for a little financial security, which sadly proved rather elusive (There are those who believe that the cataract is under a curse, a result of the many deaths recorded there. Anyone who’s looked into the post-Niagara lives of most daredevils, as I have, may start believing in curses).

Anna Edson Taylor (yes, the first person to conquer Niagara was a woman. And she rode the barrel on her 63rd birthday!) led a rather interesting life even before her Niagara adventure. Her family was rather well off, due to her father’s prosperous flour mill. She was a tomboy as a child, but also enjoyed reading.

Her father died young, but left his family a rather large inheritance. Anna grew up in Society, and came to believe it was the only decent way for a lady to live. She married, was widowed at 25, and traveled across the country, mostly as a dance teacher (the money had run out, and in those pre-Social Security days, older people were pretty much on their own. Sure, there were church programs, and a few old-age homes, but Taylor was not the kind to accept charity).

Somehow (and wouldn’t you have loved to be in on that mental conversation?), Taylor came up with the idea of going over the Falls. She used the last of her money to build an extra-strong barrel and travel to Niagara Falls.

On October 23, 1901, Anna Taylor climbed into her barrel, and took her daredevil ride. She’d hoped the stunt would get her a series of lectures on the upper-crust talk circuit But they weren’t interested. She could have been a smash in vaudeville. But Anna Edson Taylor considered that beneath her dignity.

Anna Taylor spent the rest of her life (almost 20 years) scrambling to make a living. Finally, almost forgotten, she died in an old-age home. She didn’t find a fortune. But she was the first person to vanquish Niagara. And that is hers forever.

Many movies have used Niagara as a backdrop. Tomorrow, our week of daredevils continues with a look at possibly the first, and an unlikely star risking his life at the brink of the Falls.

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