It’s easy to appreciate the unbridled power of Niagara Falls, and it’s a great place for a family vacation, a spectacle that has stood the test of time. A glance at the natural wonder on television portrays a vision of unbelievable fury and offers a small view of just what attracts millions of visitors a year.
But, standing beside the rail on the American side of the Falls is a completely different experience and causes the most cynical of onlookers to stand back and take a breath.
The sound of the roaring water as it approaches the 180-foot drop is enough to make many visitors step back and view the phenomenon from a distance, and watching the tons of water pour over the rim instills fear in the bravest of onlookers.
It’s a natural wonder that never gets old, and, for centuries, visitors have flocked to the area to view the Falls, feel the mist, and enjoy one of the most awesome views on earth.
The most demanding skeptics exit the viewing area with a new sense of respect for the power of nature in its rawest form.
It’s a place that deserves, or, should I say, demands respect from its visitors, thousands of tourists eager to stand on the edge and witness the largest waterfall in North America.
There’s also an aura of adventure that surrounds the Falls and its long history of daredevils who have attempted, and mostly failed, to conquer the plunge, a feat first attempted and successfully completed in 1901 by a lady called Annie Edison Taylor.
She braved the falls in an oak barrel with a pillow at one end and an anvil at the other. As rescuers pulled her from the small backwaters around the Falls, she emerged with a message that no other person should try this.
Taylor thought the feat would make her famous and rich, but she died penniless living in the poor house near Niagara Falls.
Niagara’s first lady and her feat prompted a number of efforts by famous and infamous daredevils who attempted to duplicate her feat, most of them ending up being identified by recovered body parts.
The long history of challenging the Falls in all sorts of contraptions adds to the atmosphere surrounding the powerful attraction, and a cottage industry telling the illustrious past is a must-see Niagara sideshow.
I remember my trip to the Falls as a child for many reasons, but it’s the tall tales surrounding the efforts of those daredevils that left the most lasting impression.
I recall one of them who walked across the expanse on a tight rope several times and then finally died when he slipped on a banana peel and succumbed to the ensuing infection.
The most famous incident involved two children and their uncle out on a boating trip far up the Niagara River in the 1960s when their outboard engine failed and they began drifting toward the rapids and the impending edge.
A famous photo displayed in Niagara portrays a tourist at the rail of the Falls extending a hand and snatching the small girl just before she drops. The uncle drowned in the mishap, but the young boy went over the Falls with just a life preserver for protection and survived with minor injuries.
Looking at the power of the water as it makes that drop would lead anyone to believe that no human could survive such a jarring fall with a landing on huge rocks that dot the bottom of the Falls.
The small boy did survive, and, shortly afterwards, officials made it a crime to test the mighty Falls. The later attempts at the Falls resulted in a media circus, and failed attempts placed an undue hazard on emergency workers tasked with rescue or recovery.
The unique aura associated with those early daredevils remains, and the power of the Falls is constant. Unfortunately, about two dozen people lose their lives annually by committing suicide at the iconic site, plunging themselves in the river and going over the Falls.
Last week, a man took the plunge near the Canadian side of the Falls, the largest and highest of the series of formations. He quickly disappeared and officials assumed the worst and began a dismal recovery effort under the falls.
To their surprise, the man was found sitting on a rock with only minor injuries. It seems high water levels on the river and in the basin below the Falls may have saved him from certain death.
Or, perhaps he just got lucky on what seemed like the most unlucky day of his life. Who said there’s no such thing as a second chance?