Saturday, July 16, 2011

Over a Barrel!


Bobby Leach and his barrel after his trip over Niagara Falls, 1911

In October 1829, Sam Patch, who called himself "the Yankee Leapster", jumped from a high tower into the gorge below the falls and survived; this began a long tradition of daredevils trying to go over the falls. On October 24, 1901, 63-year-old Michigan school teacher Annie Edson Taylor was the first person to go over the falls in a barrel as a publicity stunt; she survived, bleeding, but virtually unharmed. Soon after exiting the barrel, she said, "No one ought ever do that again." Previous to Taylor's own attempt, on October 19 a domestic cat named Iagara was sent over the Horseshoe Falls in her barrel to test its strength. Contrary to rumours at the time, the cat survived the plunge unharmed and later was posed with Taylor in photographs. Since Taylor's historic ride, 14 other people have intentionally gone over the falls in or on a device, despite her advice. Some have survived unharmed, but others have drowned or been severely injured. Survivors of such stunts face charges and stiff fines, as it is illegal, on both sides of the border, to attempt to go over the falls.

Blondin carrying his manager, Harry Colcord, on a tightrope

Other daredevils have made crossing the Falls their goal, starting with the successful passage by Jean François "Blondin" Gravelet in 1859. These tightrope walkers drew huge crowds to witness their exploits. Their wires ran across the gorge, near the current Rainbow Bridge, not over the waterfall itself. Among the many was Ontario's William Hunt, who billed himself as "The Great Farini" and competed with Blondin in performing outrageous stunts over the gorge. Englishman Captain Matthew Webb, the first man to swim the English Channel, drowned in 1883 after unsuccessfully trying to swim the rapids down river from the falls.

Annie Taylor posing next to her barrel

In the "Miracle at Niagara", Roger Woodward, a seven-year-old American boy, was swept over the Horseshoe Falls protected only by a life vest on July 9, 1960, as two tourists pulled his 17-year-old sister Deanne from the river only 20 feet (6 m) from the lip of the Horseshoe Falls at Goat Island.  Minutes later, Woodward was plucked from the roiling plunge pool beneath the Horseshoe Falls after grabbing a life ring thrown to him by the crew of the Maid of the Mist boat.
On July 2, 1984, Canadian Karel Soucek from Hamilton, Ontario successfully plunged over the Horseshoe Falls in a barrel with only minor injuries. Soucek was fined $500 for performing the stunt without a license. In 1985, he was fatally injured while attempting to re-create the Niagara drop at the Houston Astrodome. His aim was to climb into a barrel hoisted to the rafters of the Astrodome and to drop 180 feet (55 m) into a water tank on the floor. After his barrel released prematurely, it hit the side of the tank and he died the next day from his injuries.
In August 1985, Steve Trotter, an aspiring stunt man from Rhode Island, became the youngest person ever (age 22) and the first American in 25 years to go over the falls in a barrel. Ten years later, Trotter went over the falls again, becoming the second person to go over the falls twice and survive. It was also the second-ever "duo"; Lori Martin joined Trotter for the barrel ride over the falls. They survived the fall but their barrel became stuck at the bottom of the falls, requiring a rescue.
On September 28, 1989, Niagara's own Peter DeBernardi (age 42) and Jeffery James Petkovich (age 25) became the first "team" to successfully make it over the falls in a two-person barrel. The stunt was conceived by Peter DeBenardi, who wanted to discourage youth from following in his path of addictive drug use. Peter was also trying to leave a legacy and discourage his son Kyle Lahey DeBernardi (age 2) from using addictive drugs. Peter DeBernardi had initially planned to have a different passenger. However, Peter's original partner backed out, and Peter was forced to look for an alternative. Jeffery Petkovich agreed to attempt the stunt with him. Peter claims he spent an estimated $30,000 making his barrel, made of steel and fiberglass, which had harnesses, reinforcing steel bands, and viewing ports. Peter's barrel also had a radio for music and news reports, rudders to help steer the barrel through the falls, oxygen, and a well-protected video camera to record the journey over the edge. They emerged shortly after going over with minor injuries and were charged with performing an illegal stunt under the Niagara Parks Act.
On September 27, 1993 John "David" Munday, of Caistor Centre, Ontario, became the first known person to survive going over the falls twice.
Kirk Jones of Canton, Michigan became the first known person to survive a plunge over the Horseshoe Falls without a flotation device on October 20, 2003. While it is still not known whether Jones was determined to commit suicide, he survived the 16-story fall with only battered ribs, scrapes, and bruises.
A second person survived an unprotected trip over the Horseshoe Falls on March 11, 2009 and when rescued from the river, was reported to be suffering from severe hypothermia and a large wound to his head. His identity has not been released. Eyewitnesses reported seeing the man intentionally enter the water.
Leesah

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