A Woman to Know: Annie Edson Taylor

As I faced the inevitable — life or a horrible death in 50 minutes — my courage rose. — Annie Edson Taylor

(image via Wikimedia)


Annie Edson Taylor wasn't the first person to go over Niagara Falls, but she was the first to do it in a barrel — and, crucially, the first to make it out alive. And although she lied about her age at the time, telling reporters she was in her 40s, she actually began her adventure at 63, beginning a second chapter of her life as a Niagara Falls celebrity.

After moving to Buffalo in 1901, Annie hit a rough spot. She'd moved to the area hoping to make it rich in the tourism industry, but to no avail. She decided a heroic act of derring-do would marshal fame and onlookers (and hopefully, their money).

With the help of two assistants, she constructed a large wooden barrel as her extreme sporting vehicle. She outfitted the inside with pillows and harnesses to keep her in place. They tried a test run with a cat (it survived, a bit bloody) and then on Oct. 24, 1901 — her 63rd birthday — Annie went over the edge.

The actual trip over the falls took mere minutes, but having successfully braved the falls, Annie enjoyed a slightly-longer-than-15-minutes burst of fame. She wrote a memoir and sold it to tourists, posed with the historic barrel for commemorative photos and traveled the country speaking of her feat.

But after her manager ran off with the barrel and tourists stopped requesting autographs and photo opps, Annie had to find other work. She advertised herself as a clairvoyant and an energy healer, but never achieved much popularity. She died in Buffalo at age 82 and is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery at Niagara Falls, where guides lead "Daredevil Tours" beside her grave.

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