The name of Annie Edson Taylor isn’t well-known in history, but her feat was truly astounding! This week, Tidbits has gone overboard with the facts on the first woman to survive a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel.   

• Annie was just 25 when her husband was killed in the Civil War. For the next 38 years, she struggled financially, single and broke. She worked as a traveling schoolteacher, but the pay was poor and she could never get ahead. After reading a magazine article about folks who became famous for riding in barrels in the currents at the bottom of Niagara Falls, she put her mind to work on a solution to her fiscal dilemma.

•      The mode of transportation was Annie’s first issue. A custom-made barrel, five feet high and three feet in diameter was constructed of oak and iron. She outfitted it with mattresses inside to cushion her against injuries, along with a leather harness to secure her body. A 200-lb. anvil was placed at the bottom of the barrel. Annie did a trial run of the launch, sending her own cat over Horseshoe Falls to see if the barrel itself would withstand the plunge.

•    Two days after the cat emerged from its journey relatively unharmed, Annie stepped into the barrel on her 63rd birthday, October 24, 1901. She had advertised her stunt and attempted to rally publicity by claiming she was 43 years old, perhaps believing a younger person could make more money from the feat.

•    At 4:00 PM that day, Annie Taylor climbed into her barrel, and was towed by a boat to the middle of the Niagara River where the line was cut. Rapids carried her along to Horseshoe Falls.

•    At the Falls, more than 3,000 tons of water rushed to the pool below at a speed of 32 feet per second, and more than 2,500 tons of force. Over the edge she went, remaining in view for most of the plunge, except for disappearing into the mist several times.

•    Within a few minutes, she was in the pool below and floating to a rock, reaching the shore about 20 minutes after launch. As she was lifted out of the barrel, her first words were: “I prayed every second I was in the barrel, except for a few seconds after the fall when I went unconscious.” She emerged with just a 3-inch cut behind her right ear and complaints of shoulder pain.

• Reporters and cameramen rushed to her side to record the event. She remarked to the media that she would “caution anyone against attempting the feat.”    Annie was sure that her money worries were over, confident that the deed would bring her fame and fortune. With plans to tour the country with her barrel, she was devastated to discover that her manager had vanished…with the barrel! Even after enlisting the help of private investigators to locate her stolen barrel, it was not recovered.

•    Annie managed to acquire some photo ops and speaking engagements without the barrel, but it didn’t take long for her fame to dissipate, and once again she was in financial trouble. She had used much of her savings on trying to find her barrel. Although Annie penned a memoir about her adventure, returning to the Falls to sell it, it didn’t generate much income, and she returned to traveling teaching jobs. She died penniless 20 years later and was buried in a cemetery near Niagara Falls.