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The Most Bizarre Stunts Performed at Niagara Falls

Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, many daredevils were drawn to Niagara Falls in search of fame and fortune.

Niagara Falls is a singular name given to what is actually three falls at the border between Ontario, Canada and New York in the United States. Although the Niagara Falls are perhaps best known today for their beauty and immense source of hydropower, throughout the 19th and 20th century the Falls were also the site of a variety of astonishing daredevil stunts, some of which seem beyond ludicrous in today's world. Without the binds of the prohibitive (yet arguably important) safety restrictions of today, these daredevils sought fame and fortune through often bizarre means.

Famous Bizarre Stunts

Jean Francois Gravelet

Jean Francois Gravelet was a French acrobat and a tightrope walker. His astonishing acrobatic stunts gave him the moniker "the Great Blondin", something he was known as on both sides of the Atlantic. His celebrity and fortune came from his crossing of the Niagara Gorge on a tightrope only 3.25 inches in diameter tired over 150 in the air. This stunt alone, however, was not enough for Gravelet, whose other variations of crossing the river on tightrope involved doing so in a sack, on stilts, and while carrying his manager on his back. During one crossing, Gravelet sat down midway and cooked an omelette on a miniature grill.

Maria Spelterina

Maria Spelterini was an Italian tightrope walker who is the only women who have ever crossed the Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Maria crossed the Niagara Gorge on July 8, 1876, as part of promotions for the US centennial celebration. She used 2.27-inch wire to cross the north of the lower suspension of the bridge. Four days later she crossed the gorge again while wearing peach baskets strapped to her feet. On July 19, 1976, she crossed the gorge for the third time, that time blindfolded.

Annie Taylor

Annie Edison Taylor was the first to survive a barrel trip across Niagara Gorge. She desired to financially secure her later years and avoid poverty in her old age. She chose to be the first person to cross over the Niagara Falls using a barrel. Her barrel was custom-made from oak and iron. However, Taylor faced opposition from friends who were against her idea of crossing the falls terming it as a potential suicide. On October 24, 1901, during her 63rd birthday, Taylor set out for her journey across the gorge. However, her barrel was set adrift in the south of Goat Island and was pushed across by the currents over to the Horseshoe Falls. She was rescued shortly after with the trip taking less than twenty minutes.

Matthew Webb

Mathew Web drew international and national praise worldwide for his swimming across the English Channel without assistance. However, all did not end well at Niagara Falls. On July 24, 1883, Matthew Webb jumped into the river near the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge and completed the first part of the swim but died at the section near the entrance of the whirlpool.

Deaths and Injuries

The Niagara Falls has witnessed bizarre stunts of every kind including tightrope walking, swimming, barrelling over the falls, and boat riding. While most of the stunts have been successful, a few have led to deaths and serious injuries. The Horseshoe falls is famous for the daredevil stunts but also has led to several injuries. Most of the injuries and deaths are caused by awkward landing on water and the currents which sometimes sweep the swimmers away.

The Bizarre Stunts Performed at Niagara Falls

Rank´╗┐Name Type of StuntYear of Stunt
1Jean Francois GraveletTightrope Over Falls1859
2William Leonard HuntTightrope Over Falls1860
3Harry LeslieTightrope Over Falls1860
4Captain Joel E. RobinsonBoating Over Rapids1861
5Maria SpelterinaTightrope Over Falls1867
6Captain Matthew WebbSwim Through Rapids1883
7Carlisle D. GrahamBarrel Through Rapids1886
8William KendallSwim Through Rapids1886
9George Potts/William HazlettBarrel Over Falls1886
10Charles A. PercyBoating Over Rapids1887
11Robert FlackBoating Over Rapids1888
12Annie TaylorBarrel Over Falls1901
13Peter NissenBoating Over Rapids1901
14Bobby LeachBarrel Over Falls1911
15Charles StephensBarrel Over Falls1920
16Jean LussierBarrel Over Falls1928
17George StathakisBarrel Over Falls1931
18Red Hill Jr. Barrel Over Falls1951

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