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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