Pat Wahler

Penning stories to savor.

Over the Falls

A young woman is widowed during the American Civil War, and by 1901 she’s still struggling to support herself through the meager pay of a teacher. Upon reaching the age of sixty-two, the odds of a comfortable retirement were slim. So what’s a sweet little old lady to do?

Well, Anna Edson Taylor decided to be the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

She hit upon the idea as a way to make her fortune and become famous in the process. A definite planner, Anna had a large barrel fashioned with padding and straps. It had a rubber tube for air and a weight on the bottom to help the barrel remain upright.

Image from Messy Nessy Cabinet of Chic Cudriosities.

Image from Messy Nessy Cabinet of Chic Curiosities.

Anna did a trial run a few days before the big event. She put a cat in the barrel. When the indignant animal survived with only a few cuts, Anna decided she could make the fearsome trip over the falls. Publicity brought thousands of curious onlookers that were largely expecting to see an explosive end to Anna’s ambitions. It doesn’t appear anyone attempted to stop her.

Even the chief of police didn’t get involved. Once he’d gotten legal advice that he wouldn’t be held responsible for whatever might happen to Anna, he merely shrugged his shoulders and watched the action with the other observers.

On October 24, 1901- Anna’s sixty-third birthday – she strapped herself in. According to the New York Times report, men in rowboats towed the barrel into swift currents, and then let it go. In less than a minute the barrel swept over the falls, disappearing into white waves of water. Afterward, volunteers pulled the bobbing barrel to a rock, slipping and sliding to get it out of the water.

They opened the intact barrel, and helped Anna out. Aside from cuts, bruises, aches, and pains, she had survived the ordeal.

Sadly, although Anna achieved notoriety, she never made the fortune she had hoped to gain. Even the man who managed the event for her absconded with her infamous barrel.

Only a cut streaming blood indicates Anna's ordeal. Image from Messy Nessy.

Only a cut streaming blood indicates Anna’s ordeal. Image from Messy Nessy.

Anna was reduced to selling photos and small replicas of the barrel to make a buck. Her advice to those who asked about the trip over Niagara?

“No one ought ever do that again.”

Anna died in 1921, twenty years after her fateful plunge over the falls. She was eighty-three years old.

Whatever arguments can be made against the wisdom of her decision, we can most definitely agree on one thing. Anna Edson Taylor was the epitome of a gutsy old lady.

Anna Edson Taylor, post-falls. Image from Messy Nessy.

Anna Edson Taylor, post-falls. Image from Messy Nessy.

Her grit is even more admirable when you consider her gender, and the time during which she lived.

I’d like to be a little more like Anna. Though you won’t find me taking a trip over Niagara Falls or jumping out of an airplane, I can certainly attempt other things outside my comfort zone.

Maybe I’ll travel far away all by myself. Or volunteer to stand in front of a large group and give a major presentation. I might even do one of the most frightening things on earth – stand up and sing karaoke.

Without the nerve to take a chance, a lot of opportunities can slip away.

Confess, please. What’s something that makes you sweat when you think about it? Are you willing to try?

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  1. She was one gutsy woman and a planner. Too bad she didn’t plan on the guy stealing the famous barrel. What a scoundrel he was.

    This post got me wondering what daring thing I’d like to do. I’m still thinking.

    • Pat Wahler

      October 25, 2016 at 7:54 am

      Hi Donna!

      I tend to be a chicken, so there are many things that come to mind for me. Unfortunately, I’ve already ruled out most of them.

  2. Anna was certainly a woman of her time. I am a complete introvert so just the thought of going to a party makes me sweat, lol.
    Lynne x

    • Pat Wahler

      October 25, 2016 at 7:55 am

      Hi Lynne!

      Yes, I tend to be an introvert as well. Sitting in front of the computer screen or snuggling with the dog and cat suit me quite well.

  3. Oh, gosh. My problem here isn’t thinking of something that terrifies me, my problem is narrowing it down to just one thing. Skydiving – gak! Bungee jumping – gak! The giant slide at the water park – gak! Roller coasters – gak! I guess the common theme is the feeling of falling. So . . . no falling for me! But I envy Anna her chutzpah.

    • Pat Wahler

      October 25, 2016 at 7:56 am

      Hi Lisa!

      The list is endless, but physical challenges aren’t in the cards for me. I’d probably break a hip or something.

  4. I’ve skydived (three times–all tandem jumps) but I don’t think I’d ever bungee jump.

    Diving off one of those high cliffs into the ocean–THAT would terrify me.

  5. I wrote about Annie Edson Taylor a few years back and I admit, I wasn’t as kind to her. I focused more on the foolishness of her action than on her bravery. I really like your perspective. Maybe as I’m facing the upcoming challenge of promoting a book (I’ve always been a terrible salesman because I hate to see anyone spend money on something they don’t actually need), I can remember Annie and take the plunge.

    • Pat Wahler

      October 25, 2016 at 7:59 am

      Hi Sarah!

      When I saw her age, I nearly fell out of my chair. All I could think was, “You go, girl!”

  6. Well, I am completely bowled over here! I don’t know whether to cheer for Annie or shake some sense into her head! 🙂 But I’ll give her kudos for creativity and sheer chutzpah, not to mention excellent engineering skills.

    As for me, I went to NYC on a birthday trip with Juniorette Hall, which took up just about every ounce of my leaving-my-comfort-zone ability.

    At least for this week. 😉

    • Pat Wahler

      October 25, 2016 at 8:22 pm

      Hi Cathy!

      I couldn’t get over her age. Holy catfish! It definitely takes guts to do what she did. Too bad she didn’t benefit the way she hoped to.

  7. I don’t know whether to admire her or think she must have been insane, lol!
    Lynne x

  8. Lynn M. Obermoeller

    October 26, 2016 at 8:48 pm

    That was interesting… and something I’d never do. I’m not all that brave to do anything that courageous. Hmmm, meeting new people makes me sweat 🙂

    • Pat Wahler

      October 27, 2016 at 2:31 pm

      Hi Lynn!

      I’m with you. Sometimes the stuff other people do without a second thought puts me in a total lather.

  9. I think I would like to self publish a couple things. If she can go ina barrel over the falls, surely I can do this…

  10. working for other people… Ugh. It stresses me out and makes me crazy!

  11. I also have a fear of heights! So nothing like her adventure is in the cards for me. So I’ll just have to follow my own path, whatever that is!

    • Pat Wahler

      November 6, 2016 at 7:57 am

      Hi Mary!

      Heights make me nervous, too. I visited the west rim of the Grand Canyon recently, and broke out into a sweat while sidling closer to the edge.

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