Annie Edson Taylor (October 24, 1838 – April 29, 1921) was an American adventurer who, on her 63rd birthday, October 24, 1901, became the first person to survive a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
Desiring to secure her later years financially, and avoid the poorhouse, she decided she would be the first person to ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Taylor used a custom-made barrel for her trip, constructed of oak and iron and padded with a mattress. Several delays occurred in the launching of the barrel, particularly because no one wanted to be part of a potential suicide. Two days before Taylor’s own attempt, a domestic cat was sent over the Horseshoe Falls in her barrel to test its strength. Contrary to rumors at the time, the cat survived the plunge and 17 minutes later, after she was found with a bleeding head, posed with Taylor in photographs.
On October 24, 1901, her 63rd birthday, the barrel was put over the side of a rowboat, and Taylor climbed in, along with her lucky heart-shaped pillow. After screwing down the lid, friends used a bicycle tire pump to compress the air in the barrel. The hole used for this was plugged with a cork, and Taylor was set adrift near the American shore, south of Goat Island.
The Niagara River currents carried the barrel toward the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, which has since been the site for all daredevil stunting at Niagara Falls. Rescuers reached her barrel shortly after the plunge. Taylor was discovered to be alive and relatively uninjured, except for a small gash on her head. The trip itself took less than twenty minutes, but it was some time before the barrel was actually opened. After the journey, Annie Taylor told the press:
She briefly earned money speaking about her experience, but was never able to build much wealth. Her manager, Frank M. Russell, decamped with her barrel, and most of her savings were used towards private detectives hired to find it. It was eventually located in Chicago, only to permanently disappear some time later.
She spent her final years posing for photographs with tourists at her souvenir stand, attempting to earn money from the New York Stock Exchange, briefly talking about taking a second plunge over the cataracts in 1906, attempting to write a novel, re-constructing her 1901 plunge on film (which was never seen), working as a clairvoyant, and providing magnetic therapeutic treatments to local residents.
Annie Taylor died on April 29, 1921, aged 82, at the Niagara County Infirmary in Lockport, New York. She is interred in the “Stunters Section” of Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls, New York.