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People have been going over Niagara Falls in a barrel since 1853, and as recently as 2018. Some on purpose, some not. I just found my photos from my own trip to Niagara Falls from 2006! I had nearly forgotten! As you’ve already probably guessed I did not go over the falls. However, I wanted to give you a bit of the more outrageous history of the falls and then how you can personally, and safely, visit Niagara Falls yourself!
1900-1930: 5 People
1901 – On October 24, Annie Edson Taylor went over Niagara Falls in a barrel. She was mostly unharmed, but exited the barrel bleeding.
1911 – On July 25, Bobby Leach went over the falls in a barrel. He spent the following six months in hospital, recovering from two broken knee caps and a fractured jaw.
1920 – On July 11, Charles Stephens from Bristol went over the falls in a barrel. Bobby Leach and William “Red” Hill, Sr. urged Stephens to test his barrel over the falls before attempting the stunt, but he refused. When the barrel was recovered at the foot of the falls, the ballast had pulled Stephen’s body out of the barrel, leaving just his right arm in the safety harness.
1928 – On July 4, Jean Lussier went over the falls in a large ball with a spring steel frame and a rubber covering.
1930 – On July 4, George Stathakis, a Greek immigrant working as a chef in Buffalo, New York, went over the falls in a barrel. Upon impact, the barrel was stuck behind a curtain of water and could not be recovered for 18 hours. Stathakis had an air supply of up to eight hours – although he had survived the initial fall, he died of suffocation. Stathakis took the plunge with his pet turtle, which was said to be around 150 years old. The turtle survived the ordeal.
1930-1960: 1 Person
1951 – On August 5, William “Red” Hill, Jr. went over the falls in a craft he named “The Thing”. The vessel broke apart on impact and Hill was killed; his body was found the following day.
1960-1990: 7 People
1961 – On July 15, Nathan Boya (also known as William Fitzgerald) went over Niagara Falls in a rubber ball nicknamed the “Plunge-O-Sphere”. The ball hit rocks on impact and bounced, but Boya was uninjured.
1984 – On July 3, Karel Soucek went over the falls in a barrel. He emerged with only minor injuries to his face, caused by his wristwatch on impact with the water. Soucek’s descent was reported to be 75 miles per hour (121 km/h), and it took 45 minutes for the barrel to be recovered.
1985 – On August 18, Steve Trotter went over the falls in a barrel. It was his second attempt – his first, in November 1984, was foiled by the police. Trotter’s third attempt (on June 18, 1995) was also successful, when he went over the falls with Lori Martin.
1985 – On October 5, David Munday went over the falls in a barrel. During his second attempt, in 1990, the barrel became lodged at the top of the falls and was removed by crane. His third attempt, in 1993, was successful.
1989 – On September 28, Peter De Bernardi and Jeffery James Petkovich went over the falls in a reinforced barrel. Their stunt was to draw attention to an anti-drugs campaign.
1990-Current: 3 People
1990 – On June 5, Jesse Sharp went over Niagara Falls in a whitewater canoe. He intended to continue paddling downriver after the fall, and had made dinner reservations at a restaurant in Lewiston, 4 miles (6.4 km) downstream. After beginning the plunge he quickly disappeared into the falls and although his kayak was later found; his body was never recovered. Sharp decided not to wear a life jacket in case it impeded an escape should he get trapped under the falls, and refused to wear a helmet in order to keep his face recognizable to cameras.
1995 – On October 1, Robert Overacker went over the falls on a Jet Ski to raise awareness for the homeless. His rocket-propelled parachute failed to open and he plunged to his death. Overacker’s body was recovered the next day and he was pronounced dead at Niagara General Hospital.
2003 – On October 22, Kirk Jones went over Niagara Falls. He became the first person to survive the drop without any aid in the fall, having swum from approximately 100 yards (91 m) before swimming over the falls. Jones and his friends had been drinking before the incident, and had planned to record the event—although his friends were not able to operate the recorder. He was fined $2,300 and banned for life from entering Canada. Jones has said that his going over the falls was a suicide attempt rather than a stunt.
2017 – On April 19, Kirk Jones, the same man who went over the falls unprotected in 2003, attempted it again, this time inside an inflatable ball. He did not survive. The ball was picked up afterward by boat, and Jones’s body was recovered on June 2.
Visiting Niagara Falls
Mortality rate for the daredevil attempts over Niagara Falls is approximately 25%. So, I have a MUCH safer option for you! Visiting the Niagara Falls US side and Canadian side are your options. Unless you’re some of these people above and banned from visiting. You get a different perspective from each side so see if it’s worth it to you to go across the border. We did the Journey Behind the Falls and got to see it from below by descending 125 feet and onto the 130-year-old tunnels through the bedrock to the Lower Observation Deck. You’ll feel the thunderous vibration of the Horseshoe Falls long before you see them. As you can see in the photos, we were given ponchos as it does get wet down there.