People have always been risk takers…always looking for that next thrill. Many people think that the biggest risk takers are the guys, but that is not always the case. On October 24, 1901, as a birthday gift to herself on her 63rd birthday, Anna “Annie” Edson Taylor, who was an American schoolteacher, became the first person to survive a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Annie wasn’t just out to make a name for herself, but rather her motives were purely financial. Somehow, she thought this “claim to fame” would make her rich, but she never made much money from her adventure.
Annie was born on October 24, 1838, in Auburn, New York. She was one of eight children born to Merrick Edson and Lucretia Waring. Her father owned a flour mill and died when she was 12 years old, leaving enough money to provide a comfortable living for the family. Annie took a four-year training course, graduating with honors, and became a schoolteacher. While at college, she met David Taylor. They were married and had a son who died in infancy. Sadly, her husband died soon after. During her working years, the widowed Taylor, was often between jobs and locales.
Eventually, she moved to Bay City, Michigan, planning to become a dance instructor, except that there were no dance schools in Bay City at that time. No problem…Taylor opened her own. She moved to Sault Saint Marie in 1900 to teach music. From there, she traveled to San Antonio, Texas. Then she and a friend went to Mexico City to find work, but that venture completely failed, so she returned to Bay City. All of her moving and a number of other bad choices caused Taylor to find herself in hard times, Then, her house burned down, as well as a poor investment with a clergyman left her pretty broke. She claimed to be only 42 years old at the time and said that she could make money more easily if she were younger. Because she had always associated money and class with success, Taylor believed that she needed money to hold her place in the world. So, in the 1900 Federal Census, she declared her year of birth as 1860. She thought that if she was thought to be younger, she could make money easier.
Then, in what was most likely her craziest scheme ever, and hoping to secure her later years financially, Taylor decided she would be the first person to ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel. It seems that her money-making schemes were in endless supply. Taylor used a custom-made barrel constructed of oak and iron and padded with a mattress to make for her crazy trip. The barrel launch was delayed several times, mainly because no one wanted to be part of potential suicide. Finally, she decided she would have to do this on her own. First, two days before her own attempt, Taylor sent a domestic cat over the Horseshoe Falls in her barrel to test its strength to see if the barrel would break or not. Contrary to rumors at the time, the cat survived the plunge and seventeen minutes later, after she was found with a bleeding head, posed with Taylor in photographs. Then, on her 63rd birthday, the barrel was put over the side of a rowboat, and Taylor climbed in, carrying with her, her lucky heart-shaped pillow. The lid was screwed down, and friends used a bicycle tire pump to compress the air in the barrel. They plugged the hole used for the air with a cork, and Taylor was set adrift near the American shore, south of Goat Island.
The barrel was carried by river currents over the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, which has since been the site for all successful daredevil stunting at Niagara Falls. Shortly after her plunge, rescuers reached her barrel. Taylor was discovered to be alive and relatively uninjured, having received just a small gash on her head. The daring trip took less than twenty minutes, but it was some time before the barrel was actually opened. Taylor was helped out of the barrel by Carlisle Graham, her friend and the first man to run the rapids on a raft. After the journey, Taylor told the press, “If it was with my dying breath, I would caution anyone against attempting the feat … I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the Fall.” Finally, she spoke some sense!!
On February 23, 1921, Taylor was taken to the Niagara County Infirmary in Lockport, New York. Still lying about her age, she claimed to be 57. She died on April 29, 1921, aged 82 and was interred next to her friend and fellow daredevil Carlisle Graham, in the “Stunter’s Rest” section of Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls, New York. Since she died penniless, public donations were collected to pay the costs of her funeral, which was held on May 5, 1921. She blamed her bad health and near blindness to her trip over the falls, twenty years earlier.