Annie Edson Taylor was a 63 year old widow struggling to get by as a school teacher at the turn of the 20th century. In a desperate attempt to raise enough money to comfortably live out the remainder of her life, in 1901 she became the first person to take the 174 ft. plunge down Niagara Falls and live to tell the tale.
Annie lived a hard life, her father died at a young age and left her mother to raise eight children alone. She studied to be a teacher and married a young man. Their only child died at infancy and her husband passed away soon after. She was never able to save much money as a school teacher.
She pitched her daredevil idea of going down Niagara Falls in a barrel to agent Frank Russell. Together they needed to obtain permission from officials to do the stunt. Since previous daredevils had died just trying to cross the river in a barrel, Annie would need a test run to prove the stunt was safe. The test subject was a cat. So technically, a cat was the first to survive the 174 ft. fall inside a sealed barrel.
Just as she had hoped, thousands gathered to witness the death defying stunt. There was much skepticism as to whether she would even survive, and finding volunteers to paddle the barrel out proved extremely difficult. After much delay, Annie took the fall and survived with only a minor cut to her head.
Almost immediately after, her manager disappeared with the barrel and used it to reap most of the rewards from the stunt, telling the public that a much younger woman was the one to actually take the dive. Annie spent most of her remaining time and funds chasing down the barrel but she was never able to recover it. Annie spent the rest of her life working odd jobs, eventually ending up at a booth at Niagara Falls taking postcard photographs next to replica barrels, a sad end to a mesmerizing tale.
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