Going over Niagara Falls in a barrel doesn’t sound like a secure retirement plan, but it was the course of action for trendsetter Anne Edison Taylor. On October 24, 1901, her 63rd birthday, the daredevil plunged into the Niagara River and was swept over Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side.
Taylor’s father owned a flour mill. He died when she was twelve and left her an inheritance that left her a degree of security. Anne Edison married David Taylor. Their only child died shortly after birth, and David died during the Civil War. Anne Edison Taylor worked as a schoolteacher, also teaching music and dance, from San Antonio to Mexico City to Bay City, MI. Her travels depleted her resources. After reading an article about daredevils who rode waterfall whirlpools, the future Queen of the Mist decided to pursue fame and fortune by becoming the first person to ride a barrel over Niagara Falls.
She had a pickle barrel custom-made from white oak and iron rings. An anvil at the bottom supplied ballast and a mattress and leather harness provided extra security. On October 22, 1901, Taylor tested the contraption by launching her cat. It survived, albeit with a few cuts on its head.
This apparently proved to be safe enough for her, so over she went! After 4 pm on the 24th, she was sealed in the barrel with her lucky heart-shaped pillow and sent over the side of a rowboat. She plunged over the 174 feet of Horseshoe Falls. When she was pulled out of the barrel, she came out with cuts on her head, like her cat.
The retirement plan did not work out as well as she hoped. Her manager Frank M. “Tussy” Russell skipped town with the barrel. Taylor squandered her meager earnings on private investigators to find it, but to no avail. It surfaced in Chicago, but disappeared again. Taylor earned her living as a human souvenir, posing for pictures and selling booklets about her life story. She died on April 29, 1921, and was laid to rest in a section of a New York side Niagara Falls cemetery for “stunters.”
Taylor offered words of caution to anyone who might want to replicate her feat. “If it was with my dying breath, I would caution anyone against attempting the feat… I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the Fall.”