The wildest stunts ever performed at Niagara Falls
The stunningly beautiful Niagara Falls is the largest waterfall by volume in North America. Not only is it a beautiful sight to visit, but for hundreds of years, this stunning waterfall has attracted daredevils from across the globe.
Located on the Niagara River on the border between the province of Ontario, Canada, and New York state in the United States, Niagara Falls is composed of three separate waterfalls. The largest on the Canadian side is called Horseshoe Falls. Join us as we take a look at some of the craziest and surprising antics daredevils and stuntpeople have performed at Niagara Falls over the years.
Please note that none of these activities are recommended, and it is currently illegal to perform stunts at Niagara Falls without permission from authorities.
One of the first stuntmen to impress at Niagara Falls was Jean François Craveler, aka Charles Blondin. Here we see the French tightrope walker crossing the 1,100 foot long Niagara Gorge in 1860. This daredevil completed the feat a total of three times in 1855, 1859, 1860.
On his many crossings of the Niagara Gorge, Blondin enjoyed showing off. This daredevil pulled stunts while on the wire, such as performing headstands, balancing on a chair and eating, and even walking a wheelbarrow across the wire.
The first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel was a fearless woman: Annie Taylor. Annie was an American schoolteacher, who at 63 years old, decided to take the plunge over the largest waterfall in North America.
(Photo: Unknown author - Francis J. Petrie Photograph Collection, Public Domain)
The big take took place on October 24th, 1901, which was also Annie's 63rd birthday. Friends rowed her out into the Niagara River with her custom-made barrel. Annie went in her barrel, and her friends screwed down the lid, a bicycle tire pump was used to compress the air, and she was set adrift.
Pictured here: Annie and friends about to set off in the row boat.
(Photo: By Unknown author - Niagara Falls Heritage Foundation Collection, Public Domain)
The river's currents hurled the barrel over the falls, and Annie made it through the whole ordeal with only a small cut on her head. Taylor had hoped the stunt would gain her fame and fortune; while she did become famous, she didn't earn the wealth she had hoped for.
This photograph shows Annie after her trip over the falls.
(Photo: By M. H. Zahner - Francis J. Petrie Collection, Public Domain)
Englishman Bobby Leach was the second individual to take a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Bobby was 53 years old at the time, and as a performer in the Barnum and Bailey Circus, he was accustomed to doing stunts. Before going down Niagara Falls, he liked to boast that anything Annie Taylor could do, he could do better.
(Photo: By Miscellaneous Items in High Demand, PPOC, Library of Congress)
Well, sometimes boasting can come back to haunt you. Leach went over the falls on July 25th, 1911. He didn't fair as well as Annie Taylor and was in the hospital for six months recovering from injuries from the stunt, including two broken knee caps and a broken jaw. Ironically, years later, while touring in New Zealand, Bobby died from complications related to slipping on an orange peel.
(Photo: By Miscellaneous Items in High Demand, PPOC, Library of Congress)
Following Bobby Leach, another Englishman decided to go over the falls in a barrel. Charles Stephens, or as he liked to be called, the "Demon Barber of Bedminster," was 58 years old when he attempted the feat. Stephens thought going over the falls in a barrel would be a "cool commercial proposition". He decided to use an oak barrel with an anvil for ballast and didn't think any barrel testing was necessary. This would prove to be a fatal mistake.
(Photo: By Unknown author - Google books, Public Domain)
Jean Lussier was the fourth person to go over Niagara Falls. Lussier took a different approach than those who took the plunge before him. He designed and built a large, six-foot rubber ball complete with oxygen tubes.
On the big day, July 4th, 1928, Lussier went over the falls with success. His rubber ball was damaged from the impact, but Lussier only sustained mild bruising.
Roger Woodward survived a plunge over Niagara Falls at just seven years old. On July 9th, 1960, Roger was on a boat trip on the Niagara River with his older sister and an adult family friend. Around 1.6 km before the edge of Horseshoe Falls, as the friend was turning the boat around, the motor malfunctioned. He ordered the children to put on their life vests and began rowing frantically, but it was too late.
The boat capsized from the waves near the edge of the falls. Roger's older sister was rescued before going over by two men on Goat Island, but Roger and the family friend went over the falls. Amazingly Roger was found at the bottom of the falls, alive and well; his only injury was a mild concussion. Unfortunately, the family friend wasn't so lucky and drowned to death.
Here we see Roger and his sister Deanna after the harrowing experience.
Going over the falls as a stunt became quite the trend, which had both the American and Canadian authorities worried. After the death of a daredevil in 1951, it became illegal to attempt the stunt, and those who break the rule face hefty fines.
This didn't stop Canadian stuntman Karel Soucek, who went over the falls in a barrel in July 1984. Karel survived with mild injuries was forced to pay a $500 fine for completing the stunt without the proper license.
Sadly, Soucek would die while demonstrating how his barrel worked at the Houston Astrodome in 1985. The barrel struck the edge of the dome and he was fatally injured.
The only woman to tightrope walk across the Niagara Gorge has been Maria Spelterini from Italy. On July 8th, 1876, she crossed the gorge on a 57mm wire. She would complete the feat a total of four times, later wearing peach baskets on her feet on July 12th, 1876 (pictured above), then crossing while blindfolded on July 19th, and with her ankles and wrists tied together on July 22nd.
In 1890, Torontonian Samuel J. Dixon made a trip across the Niagara River Gorge by tightrope-walking across a 7/8 inch rope. Using a balance pole made of gas pipe, Dixon began his journey on the Canadian side of the river, crossed to the American side, and then made his way back again.
In 1995 Californian Robert Overacker felt the call of Niagara Falls. Robert made a plan to perform a stunt that had never been done before: jet ski over the fall on the Canadian side and then deploy a parachute for a safe landing. Despite his best intentions, not everything went as planned - Overcracker drove the jet ski over the falls, but the parachute failed to open. His body was retrieved by the Maid of the Mist tour boat, but he could not be resuscitated.
Perhaps the bravest or craziest stuntman on the list is Kirk Jones. On October 20th, 2003, Jones jumped from the Canadian side into the falls with only the clothes on his back and no protection.
Kirk survived with only broken ribs and a bruised spine, despite having fallen 180 feet. He was then banned from the falls for life by Canadian authorities and charged $3000 for performing an unauthorized stunt. Jones should have counted himself lucky and left it at that, but in 2017 he tried the stunt again. He enclosed himself in a large inflatable ball and went over the falls; however, he wasn't as lucky as the first time and was killed by the fall.
Canadian ice-climbers Will Gadd and Sarah Hueniken were the first man and first woman to successfully climb the ice covering the rock wall next to Niagara Falls' Horseshoe Falls. In 2005, the pair set off to scale the 51 meter high falls, with Will leading and Sarah following. The team completed the feat in just under an hour. This climb is especially difficult to complete due to the fact that the fast-moving water of the falls rarely freezes over.
After two years of negotiations with both the American and Canadian authorities, Nik Wallenda fulfilled a childhood dream. In 2012, Nik became the first person to walk a tightrope directly over Niagara Falls. Daredevils of the past had only done it over the Niagara Gorge.
38,000 people gathered to watch the stuntman make the gut-wrenching voyage on a high wire from the American side at Goat Island to the Canadian side near the Table Rock.
Erendira Wallenda completed a unique daredevil feat in June of 2017: hanging by her teeth from a hoop suspended by a helicopter over Niagara Falls. The helicopter hovered Wallenda high enough over the halls so the mist and wind currents wouldn't affect her performance.
Erendira performed an acrobatic routine with her hoop dangling over the falls from her knees, hands, toes, and teeth. She completed her stunt just five years after her husband, stuntman Nik Wallenda was the first to walk a hire-wire directly over the falls.