Traversing the Rapids
Rapids in the Niagara River below the falls are considered “Class 6 – Extreme” on the international scale of river difficulty. The challenge of navigating these waters has been enticing stunters to Niagara for years.
In 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.
Major Hill (his name and not a title), son of the famous Riverman Red Hill Sr, ran the Rapids successfully four times in 1949, 1950,1954 and 1956. He was murdered in Niagara Falls in 1976
Red Hill Sr
William 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.
William J. Kendall
William 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.
Captain Klaus Larsen
In 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.
Bobby 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.
Charles A. Percy
Charles 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.
On 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.
1901 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.
Captain Matthew Webb
Matthew Webb was the first person to swim across the English Channel at Dover. 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.
In 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.