"...but now they're strapping you in
Niagara Falls, Ontario is home to some of the most overpriced and gaudy attractions you'll ever see. Whether it's the "Serial Killers Wax Museum" or the "Ripley's Believe It or Not Simulator Rides," the main drag in Niagara Falls is what you get when you mix Disney Land with Las Vegas (Niagara hosts two casinos now) in a town the size of Reno. It's fun for a while, especially if you're young, and there may not be a better place (or least a more fluorescently-lit place) in Ontario to stumble around at 3 in the morning. But you quickly get the idea that the attraction down the street deserves better. The powerful and incomparable water falls at Niagara are a natural wonder of the world, their beauty matched only by their staggering force and power generation. They've been around for more than 12,000 years, and have long been a gathering point for tourists and thrill seekers alike.
The first and most famous daredevil to defy the power of Niagara Falls was Blondin the "daredevil wirewalker." The French tight-rope walker crossed the 1100ft gap spanning the Canadian Horseshoe Falls in 1858, but as his bio reveals, that "simple" feat wasn't good enough. He later crossed the falls "a number of times, always with different theatric variations: blindfold, in a sack, trundling a wheelbarrow, on stilts, carrying a man on his back, sitting down midway while he made and ate an omelette." In 1829, before Blondin made Niagara the daredevil Mecca, a man named Sam Patch leapt into the churning rapids at the base of the falls to prove he could survive the infamous Niagara whirl-pool. He did, twice.
Once walking over, and swimming in, the falls had been done, "plunging over the falls" was the next logical adventure. The Canadian falls shoot 167 feet straight down at a rate of 600,000 gallons per second. Naturally, folks wanted to ride 'em for kicks. Going over the falls in a barrel (which as you can read below was quite literally a trend one woman began) became a standard test of a daredevil's resolve. Many have tried, many still do, and often times they die in the process. 15 have attempted to complete the plunge in the past 20 years. 8 survived and were charged and detained by the Ontario Provincial Police. "Plunging" is against the law in Ontario and New York State. A young boy survived a plunge wearing only a life jacket (You used to hear his story through the gravelly loud speaker while riding the "Maid of the Mist," which is now called "Hornblower Cruises" but remains a must if you're ever in the area) and in 2003 a man with apparently terrible luck became the first person to survive a plunge in more than a decade during a suicide attempt.
If you've ever seen Kevin McMahon's dark and just plain great documentary film "The Falls," you know that suicide attempts are still very popular in "The Honeymoon Capital of The World." One of the documentary's most compelling characters is the man who is employed by the city to scoop out the bodies that inevitably float their way towards the Niagara Power station. From the now defunct "making-light-of-death" website: "...Niagara Falls vies with San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge for the dubious title of most popular place to end it all. The number of Niagara suicides rises steadily through the summer and peaks in September. An accurate count is difficult because some bodies are never recovered, but the experts put the number at about 20 a year...."
Natives in the Niagara region warned initial European explorers, including Champlain, of the power, both spiritual and physical of the Falls. They believed something so grand existed for a purpose, and had meaning beyond our earthly comprehension. One of the first tribes to lay claim to the area were the "Onguiaahra" peoples, from which we derive "Niagara."
"...The bell's picking up speed
The Balcan Emergency Lifeline (or BELL) was first used in a rescue at Niagara Falls in 1985. The modified lifesaver was deployed when two modern day daredevils were thrown from their makeshift barrel after a plunge gone wrong.
However, this lyric could refer to the name of the device used by Annie Edson Taylor, who while riding in a homemade wooden contraption she named "the bell," was the first person to ever successfully go over the falls in a barrel. The year was 1901, and Annie claimed to be a 43-year-old school teacher. She is now believed to have been 60-years-old at the time of her stunt. She was from Bay City, Michigan, and completed the plunge on her birthday for reasons that are still disputed. Most likely, she hoped to gain fame and fortune, and although she spawned a daredevil tradition at Niagara, she died obscure and penniless in 1921.Play Song