Friday, December 19, 2014
Lincoln Beachey
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In June 1911 Lincoln J. Beachey flew a biplane from Niagara Falls, New York to the Canadian Rapids. He flew right over the brink of the Horseshoe Falls, along the Niagara Gorge and then under the arches of the Falls View Bridge. He commented afterwards "it was a flight filled with more dangers than you can imagine. ...I was never in such treacherous air currents" Beachey died just four years later performing stunts at the Panama-Pacific Exhibition in San Francisco.

View pictures at Historic Niagara Digital Collections

 

Henry Bellini
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Henry Bellini on the WireHenry Bellini was an Australian. In 1873 he began giving semi weekly performances walking across the Niagara Gorge using a 1,500 foot rope, the longest ever used across the Gorge.

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Blondin
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Jean Francois Gravelet (Blondin) funambulist and tightrope walkerJean Francois Gravelet a.k.a. Blondin was the first and possibly the best known of Niagara's funambulists ! (tightrope walkers). He made 21 crossings on a 1,100 foot long rope stretched from Prospect Park in the United States to the Canadian side. On August 17 1859 he actually carried his manager across the Gorge on his back. The trip lasted 42 minutes and included 42 rest stops. 

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Nathan Boya
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Nathan Boya's Ball after it carried him over the Horseshoe FallsWilliam Fitzgerald alias Nathan Boya became the first African-American to go over the Horseshoe Falls on July 15, 1961.He travelled in a large rubber ball which was fully six feet in diameter. He suffered a few minor cuts and bruises and duly paid his fine of $113.

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Clifford Calverly
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Clifford Calverly crossing Niagara Falls on a tight ropeRecords are very few pertaining to Clifford Calverly. He came from Clarksburg, Ontario and in 1887 came to Niagara Falls to perform his tight rope act. During his successful crossing he set the speed record for crossing the Gorge, 2 minutes and 32 seconds. Most of the performers averaged around 15 - 20 minutes. During subsequent crossings Calverly skipped rope, hung by one arm, sat on a chair and used a wheelbarrow.

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DeBernardi & Petkovich
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Barrel at the Brink of the Horseshoe FallsPeter DeBernardi and Jeffrey Petkovich suffered only cuts and bruises after plunging over the Horseshoe Falls in a home-made barrel and becoming the first double stunters, September 28th 1989.  "What a ride, what a ride" exclaimed DeBernardi as they exited the barrel, according to the Niagara Falls Review.

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Samuel J Dixon
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Samuel Dixon tight rope walking between Cantilever & Suspension Bridge Niagara FallsDixon crossed the Niagara River over the Gorge near Queen Victoria Park on September 6, 1890 using Stephen Peer's cable. On July 17, 1891 he walked between the Cantilever Railway Bridge and Railway Suspension Bridge.

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Signor Antonio Farini
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Antonio Farini tight rope walking, washing machine on back at Niagara FallsBorn William T. Hunt in Port Hope Ontario, he reinvented himself as Signor Guillermo Antonio Farini. He walked  across the Ganaraska River near Port Hope and also across King Street in Bowmanville before moving on to bigger things, namely Niagara Falls. In the 1860s he carried a washing machine on his back to the centre of the rope, he set it down, lowered a pail down into the river, hauled up water and then washed the handkerchief of a passenger on board the Maid.

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Carlisle Graham
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Carlisle Graham standing next to the barrel that went through the Whirpool Rapids NiagaraIn 1886 Carlisle D. Graham of Philadelphia Falls rode an oak barrel through the Whirlpool Rapids, becoming the first of the "barrel performers" . He repeated the trip three more times. On one occasion he held his head outside of the barrel and consequently suffered from deafness the rest of his life.

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Red Hill Sr & Family
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Red Hill Sr on the banks of the Niagara RiverWilliam Thomas Hill Sr, born 1888, nicknamed "Red" was the most famous of the family of "Rivermen". His knowledge of the Niagara River tides, undertows and currents was unsurpassed. His exploits were legendary, they include
 

  • 1896 saved his younger sister Cora from a burning house
  • 1910 rescued Bobby Leach from the Whirlpool Rapids
  • 1912 rescued Ignatuis Roth from drowning in the Ice Bridge tragedy
  • 1918 rescued Loftberg and Harris from a stranded scow above the Falls
  • 1928 rescued Jean Lussier from below the Falls

    During his lifetime he was responsible for rescuing 123 bodies from the Niagara River and was the recipient of 4 Royal Humane Society medals for acts of bravery.

    Red Hill Junior and Major Hill (it really was his name and not a title) also attempted feats. Major was primarily a rapids runner. The lure of the Rapids and the Falls affected this family like like no other.

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Professor J F Jenkins
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Professor Jenkins crossing Niagara on a velocipide"Professor" J. F. Jenkins crossed the Niagara Gorge at the Whirlpool Rapids, north of the Railway Suspension Bridge on August 25, 1869, using a combination bicycle-velocipede. The Gazette said "his performance bears about as much resemblance to Blondin's as a poor counterfeit does to a genuine"

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William J Kendall
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William J Kendall at the Whirlpool RapidsWilliam J. Kendall, a policeman from Boston Mass. swam the Whirlpool Rapids on August 22, 1886. He wore only his swimming trunks and a cork life preserver. He suffered minor cuts and bruises.

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Captain Klaus Larsen
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Klaus Larsen in the boat that made it through the Whirlpool Rapids at NiagaraIn 1910 the Niagara International Carnival Committee promoted a motor boat race through the Whirlpool Rapids, Captain Klaus Larsen was the only boater to respond to the ad. Larsen successfully navigated the Rapids, but his boat was swamped within sight of Queenston.

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Bobby Leach
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Boby Leach posing next to the barrel that carried him over Niagara FallsBobby Leach born in Cornwall, England was a circus stuntman. How he arrived in North America we do not know. His goals were to complete a "triple challenge" of the Falls and the Niagara River.

  • a barrel trip through the Rapids to the Whirlpool
  • a barrel trip over the Falls
  • a parachute jump from the Upper Suspension Bridge into the River, just upstream from the Rapids

In the summer of 1910 he made his first attempt, but became stuck in a eddy in the Whirlpool and had to be rescued by the famous Niagara Riverman "Red Hill Senior". On July 25, 1911 he made the trip successfully, but not undamaged. He received two broken knee caps and a broken jaw. His became the first successful navigation of the Falls. He returned to Niagara Falls in the 20s for his final stunt, parachuting off the Upper Suspension Bridge. Rumour has it that he did not parachute from the Bridge but rather from a plane and that the wind forced him to land in a corn field in Canada. While visiting New Zealand, Bobby Leach slipped on an orange peel, fracturing his leg. Gangrene set in and Bobby Leach died on April 26, 1926.

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Jean Lussier
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Jean Lussier after being rescued by Red Hill Sr (right)Joseph Albert Lussier, alias Jean Lussier was French-Canadian. In 1928 he went over the Horseshoe Falls in a very large and heavy rubber ball built around a steel frame. He survived and became part of the lecture circuit speaking about his adventure.

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John "David" Munday
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John David Munday being interviewed after going over Niagara FallsIn July 1985 John "David" Munday of Caistor Centre attempted to go over the Horseshoe Falls in a barrel, he was foiled by Niagara Parks Police. On October 5 1985 he succeeded and became the 10th person to go over the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. He attempted the stunt again on September 27 1993 and became the first man to accomplish the feat twice.

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Sam Patch
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Illustration of Sam Patch's Leap at NiagaraSam Patch was the first of Niagara's many daredevils. In October 1829 the 22 year old jumped off a platform at the top of a 98 foot high ladder set up below Goat Island, not far from the Cave of the Winds. He survived. On November 6, 1829 he attempted a jump from the Genesee Fall in Rochester, New York. This time he did not survive. 

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Stephen Peer the Hometown Boy!
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Stephen Peer tight rope walker at Niagara FallsStephen Peer was born in Stamford Township in 1840. He was nineteen when Blondin performed the first of his many tight rope walking feats at Niagara Falls. Peer became determined to become the first real "Niagaran" to walk the Gorge. In 1873 he became an assistant to Henry Bellini, he then illicitly used Bellini's equipment to perform his own first stunt. Bellini was not amused and attempted to cut down the tight rope. The residents chased him out of town, after all Peer was the home town boy ! By 1887 he had become famous enough to begin performing under his own billing and on June 22, 1887  he  successfully walked on a wire cable stretched between the present Whirlpool Bridge and the Pen Central Bridge. Three days later he went to the platform from which he had started his crossing, with friends. Speculation is that they had been drinking, Peer began to walk across the cable and fell forty five feet to his death.

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Charles A Percy
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Charles Percy Whirlpool RapidsCharles A. Percy made two trips through the Whirlpool Rapids in a boat. On the first trip, August 28, 1887, he successfully navigated the Rapids but was unable to complete his trip to Lewiston as he couldn't get across the current after the Whirlpool. His second trip was September 16, 1888. He again navigated the Whirlpool successfully, but was thrown out of his boat and spent the rest of his trip wearing his life preserver.

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Jeffrey "Clyde" Petkovich
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Petkovich & DeBernardi being towed ashore after going over Niagara FallsJeffrey "Clyde" Petkovich and Peter DeBernardi suffered only cuts and bruises after plunging over the Horseshoe Falls in a home-made barrel and becoming the first double stunters, September 28th 1989.  "What a ride, what a ride" exclaimed DeBernardi as they exited the barrel, according to the Niagara Falls Review.

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Henri J Rechatin
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Henri Rechating crossing a wire at the Whirlpool Rapids NiagaraHenri J. Rechatin is one of the more recent daredevils of Niagara. In 1975 he crossed over the Whirlpool Rapids on the cable of the Spanish AeroCar. His friend Frank Lucas rode a motorcycle, he, himself was balanced on a platform like device attached to the motorcycle, and his wife Jancyk was suspended from the long pole Rechatin carried across his shoulders. In 1975 he expressed a desire to celebrate the anniversary of his feat by tightrope walking across the Niagara Gorge. His request was denied by the Niagara Parks Commission; stunting is banned on all of their property.

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Jesse Sharp
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Jesse Sharp in a kayak going over Niagara FallsOn June 5 1990 Jesse Sharp attempted to kayak over the Horseshoe Falls. He was unsuccessful. His kayak was recovered at the base of the Falls on the Canadian side in almost perfect condition. A paddle was recovered on the American side.

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Karel Soucek
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Karel Soucek in the barrel in which he went over Niagara FallsOn June 11th 1977, Karel Soucek made a successful trip through the Whirlpool Rapids in a barrel. On July 2 1984 Karel Soucek of Hamilton, Ontario made a successful plunge over the Horseshoe Falls yet again in a barrel. Soucek suffered only minor injuries. He died less than a year later performing a stunt at the Houston Astrodome.

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Maria Spelterini
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Maria Spelterini crossing Niagara Falls by tight rope, peach baskets on her feetSignorina Maria Spelterini (also spelled as  Spelterina) was a buxom 150 pound beautiful woman of Italian descent, famous for wearing outrageous costumes. Her stunts included walking with her feet in baskets and performing wearing shackles and chains. She was the first woman to ever walk cross the Niagara Gorge. Many of her stunts were done at the age of 23, as part of the celebration of the United States Centennial in 1876.

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George Stathakis
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Barrel of George Stathakis being towed ashore at Niagara FallsGeorge L. Stathakis was 46 years old and from Buffalo. His intention was to make money by selling the movie rights to his trip over the Horseshoe Falls in a barrel. Also along for the ride was his pet turtle "Sonny Boy". "Sonny Boy" survived but George, alas, did not. The trip on July 5, 1930 was successful but the sheer force of the water kept the barrel submerged and the limited oxygen supply ran out.

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Annie Edson Taylor
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Annie Edson Taylor with the barrel in which she went over Niagara FallsOn Thursday October 24, 1901 Annie Taylor became the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. She was a widowed schoolteacher from Michigan, desperate for money. It was her 46th birthday (she said), but it is now believed that she was in her sixties. She made the journey relatively unscathed, just one small cut on her forehead. Unfortunately for Annie she was not a success on the speaking circuit and her dreams of making enough money to pay her debts did not materialize. She died a pauper in 1921.

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Steven Trotter
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Steven Trotter and Lori Martin being rescued at Niagara FallsSteven Trotter jammed himself into a pickle barrel Sunday September 18th 1985 and became the 9th person to go over the Horseshoe Falls and survive. The Niagara Falls Review said "Trotter emerged from his home-made rubber barrel moments after making the 55 metre (180 feet drop) at 8:03 a.m.. Mr. Trotter was uninjured except for a small scratch on his right arm..."  On June 18th 1995 Trotter with Lori Martin  became the first male-female duo to go over the Falls in a barrel. They suffered only minor scratches and bruises. Trotter said he did the stunt as a Father's day gift .

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Martha Wagenfuhrer
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Martha Wagenfuhrer at the Whirlpool Rapids at Niagara Falls1901 was the "Year of the Women" at Niagara Falls. Annie Taylor, Maude Willard and Martha Wagenfuhrer all made the headlines with their journeys. Martha made her journey through the Whirlpool Rapids on September 6, 1901, she was successful. The very next day Maude Willard made the same trip in the same barrel, she did not survive.

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Maude Willard
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Maude Willard with Carlisle Graham's barrelIn 1901, Maude Willard successfully navigated the Whirlpool Rapids but she suffocated when her barrel was caught for four hours in the Whirlpool Rapids. She had borrowed the barrel from Carlisle Graham.

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Captain Matthew Webb
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ortrait of Captain Matthew WebbMatthew Web was the first person to swim across the English Channel. On July 24, 1883 he attempted to swim through the Whirlpool Rapids at Niagara Falls. Things did not go well, he disappeared from view and his body was discovered four days later between Lewiston and Youngstown.

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Photographic Reproduction Fees
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Digital Scans

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