Niagara Falls Daredevils Week-Day 4
(This was supposed to be a look at the “Last of the Niagara Daredevils. But, to be honest, I’d forgotten all about today’s subject. His story should be told, 50 years after his moment in Niagara history. The “Last of the Niagara Daredevils” can wait one day-MR)
Today’s entry in our look at Niagara Falls daredevils took place in 1961. It tells the story of a mysterious man who called himself “Nathan Boya”. He’s the only black person to go over the Falls. And, unlike most stunters, he doesn’t seem to have done it for fame or fortune, but just to say he had. Or maybe it was something else…
The years since Anna Edson Taylor‘s 1901 barrel ride over the Falls had demonstrated just how dangerous that particular stunt was. While Bobby Leach had conquered the cataract in 1911, and Jean Lussier had made the trip in a ball of old tire inner-tubes in 1928, three people had died in attempts [the last, a poorly-planned effort by ‘Red’ Hill Jr., was so badly worked out that his craft, appropriately called the ‘Thing”, fell apart even before it reached the brink of the Falls]. Hill’s 1951 fatal try led to public stunting being made illegal.
A decade passed after Hill’s disasterous attempt. Then a man whose name was probably William Fitzgerald got in touch with Lussier, who had settled in Niagara Falls after his 1928 feat. Fitzgerald was looking for details about Lussier’s rubber ball, the last craft to successfully conquer Niagara. Lussier was more than willing to advise the young man, advising him to carry more air tanks than the 30 hours’ worth that Fitzgerald planned on. He also suggested that Fitzgerald get a rebreather, a device that would remove poisonous carbon dioxide from the air inside his sphere. Unlike Lussier’s rubber ball, Fitzgerald built a steel ball, covered with rubber and a top layer of steel.
On July 15th, 1961, Fitzgerald’s craft was towed into the current near the Falls. Almost immediately, he was in very serious danger, as his vessel headed towards the American Falls [where rocks at its base would have likely crushed even a heavy steel ball]. But luck was riding with him, and the ball [named the “Plunge-O-Sphere” by Fitzgerald] bounced off rocks near the crest of the Falls and over the safer Canadian Falls. The Maid Of The Mist tour boat rushed over to the strange vessel after it reached the base of the Falls. Except for a dent or two, it, and its passenger, were in perfect condition.
When the authorities caught up with Fitzgerald, he gave his name as “Nathan Boya”, and said he had come to “integrate” the Falls. Whether that was really his goal or not, he does have the distinction of being the first person arrested and fined for breaking the anti-stunting law [The fine was set at just $100, plus costs, after it became obvious that Fitzgerald had no intention to make money from his stunt]. Then, he dissappeared. Word later filtered out that he was really a janitor for IBM. He went on to earn a doctorate in sociology and a post-doctorate degree in medical biology. According to all reports I could find, he lives quietly in New York City.
So why did Fitzgerald do it? There may be something to his claim of integrating the Falls; it was an era of efforts towards equal rights for blacks. There have also been stories that it was an ill-fated effort to impress a woman, who reputedly ditched him for attempting something so stupid. Or it may have just been what he told reporters shortly afterwards: “I had to do it, I wanted to do it, and I am glad I did it”.
Tomorrow, we will tell the story of the “Last of the Niagara Daredevils”, to wrap up this series.