The first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel had a simple motive: money. Running a dance studio and teaching hadn’t made Annie Edson Taylor rich, but she’d read about stunts in the pools at the bottom of the falls. Those people seemed to be famous, so if she actually went over the falls, she’d surely gain even more fame and be set for life. 

Taylor designed the watercraft herself. It was a pickle barrel (a pickle parrel, of course, is an item you’re all familiar with) with some padding on the inside in the form of a mattress. For a test run, she sent the barrel over the falls with her cat inside. The cat—pictured above—survived. Not the best test maybe, since cats are smaller than humans, and immortal, but this gave her confidence.

On October 24, 1901, she went through with the stunt. She crawled into the barrel, friends sealed it up for her, and she traveled down the river and over the falls. Against all logic, she made it through just fine. Her head was bleeding when they pulled her out 20 minutes later, but she may actually have just bashed it getting out of the barrel instead of during the drop.

So, did she get the fortune she’d hoped for? Far from it. Her manager embezzled a chunk of her early earnings. He also stole the barrel, which was a real blow. Taylor figured that the barrel itself would be a major draw during any of her public appearances. She ended up spending a large proportion of what money she did make from publicity on hiring detectives to try to track down that barrel. None succeeded. 

Her barrelless public appearances also didn’t draw many people because (said those who saw them) she simply wasn’t a very entertaining personality. Taylor went over the falls at the age of 63, and rather than landing a fortune to last her through retirement, she had to go on running a souvenir stand for the remaining 20 years of her life. Still, we can’t paint her as that unlucky. Failing to score a life-changing fortune is hardly the worst outcome you can suffer when you choose to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. 

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