More than anything in this world, Annie Edson Taylor wanted fame and fortune. To attain them she went over Niagara Falls in a barrel, and for 10 years she remained the only person to have made that extraordinary journey.
Mrs. Taylor was not a giddy girl. The day she "shot the falls," Oct. 24, 1901, was her 43rd birthday, and the plump widow from Bay City, Mich., a staid ex-schoolteacher, had never done anything daring in her life until that chilly day in October. It seemed at the time an all-but-inexplicable act, as unexpected a search for instant fame and wealth as one could imagine.
A solidly built, 160-pound woman with a penchant for voluminous black dresses and large-brimmed hats, Annie Taylor showed up at Niagara in September of 1901 and made public her intention of going over the falls in a wooden barrel. No one believed her.
A couple of weeks later she returned with a jerry-built barrel of her own design. Men were quick to point out that she was not much of a barrel designer, but ignoring their unasked-for advice, she sent the barrel over the falls on a trial run with a reluctant passenger, a cat. Much to the men's chagrin, the barrel was retrieved in almost perfect condition, though the same could not be said for the cat.
The barrel, made of Kentucky oak, stood 4� feet high and was three feet in diameter, tapering down to 15 inches at the base. A 100-pound anvil weighted the bottom, and the interior was lined with leather and had two strong leather loops for her elbows. A special harness connected her securely to the anvil.
Not only serious about her stunt but eager to get on with it, Annie arrived early at Port Day on Oct. 24 and waited impatiently for the two men who had agreed to tow her barrel. Fred Truesdale showed up promptly at two, but Fred Robinson was late. He had been talking to the police, who informed him he might find himself in serious trouble if things went awry.
"I ain't going to be a party to the murder of any woman," said Robinson, backing out. William Holleran, having no such scruples, volunteered his services. He and Truesdale loaded the barrel into the boat and prepared to row to Grass Island, from which point they would tow the barrel into the stream.
Mrs. Taylor prepared to embark.
"Goodby, Mrs. Taylor," several spectators called out politely.
"Au revoir," replied Annie Taylor elegantly. "I'll not say goodby because I'll see you soon."