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Nov. 26, 2020 | Thursday
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Niagara's History Unveiled: Wire-walkers and miracles at Niagara Falls
Erendira Wallenda performs stunts over Niagara Falls in 2017, including hanging by her teeth above the deadly waters. (File photo/Richard Harley)

This is the third and final part in our series on Niagara Falls.

'Many daredevils have challenged Niagara Falls, including wire-walkers, who, for many years, were a big draw for crowds throughout the United States and Canada.

The big travelling circuses boasted they had the best walkers on the highest wires. So, it seems only natural that some of these wire-walkers would seek the notoriety of walking across Niagara Falls. 

The first walkers, though, did not walk across the brink of the falls but crossed the gorge down from the falls.

In 1859, Jean Francois Gravelet became the first person to wire-walk across the Niagara Gorge. In 1876, Maria Spelterini became the first woman to do it. In fact, she crossed four times in 18 days. On one of those crossings she was blind-folded.

It was in 1896 that wire-walking was halted by law. However, 116 years after this law was implemented, in 2012, Nik Wallenda got permission from the United States and Canada to do a high-wire act. Unlike previous walkers, Wallenda was crossing over the actual brink of the Horseshoe Falls.

It was billed as the longest, unsupported tightrope walking act in history. Wallenda was successful and upon reaching Canada, he presented his passport to immigration authorities to legally enter the country.

Several ships have also taken the plunge over the falls. In 1829, a schooner, The Superior, was sent over the falls as a stunt. 

It got stuck on the rocks at the bottom of the falls, staying there for a month before finally breaking apart. In 1837, during the Upper Canada Rebellion the steamer Caroline was set on fire and sent over the falls.

On Aug. 6, 1918, an old dredging scow ran into some problems while dredging the sand banks out of the south end of the Niagara River. 

The tow line from a tug boat broke as it was pulling the scow to shore. The two men on board the scow were terrified as they headed toward the Horseshoe Falls. Fortunately the scow became wedged in some rocks and the two men were rescued.

There it remained for over 100 years until Oct. 31, 2019, when higher-than-normal water levels in the Niagara River and a strong wind storm lifted the scow off the rocks. 

The scow was pushed 50 metres down the river toward the brink of the Horseshoe Falls before it was caught on more rocks. This scow could possibly be the next object to go over the falls.

There also have been a few miracles at Niagara Falls.

On July 9, 1960, seven-year-old Roger Woodward and his sister were in a small aluminum boat with a family friend going for a ride on the south end of the Niagara River.

The boat capsized when it got caught in the rapids. The man went over the falls and perished. 

Woodward’s 17-year-old sister was rescued but the rescuers ran out of time to reach the young boy. Horrified, they watched helplessly as Woodward went over the falls with only his life jacket on.

The crew of the Maid of the Mist saw an orange life jacket bobbing in the water below the falls and scrambled to rescue Woodward. On their third attempt, Woodward was able to grab hold of a life preserver ring.

Upon Capt. Clifford Keech hearing Woodward’s incredible story, he contacted the authorities. Woodward was taken to Greater Niagara General Hospital, where he spent three days recovering from multiple bruises and a slight concussion.

Many others, though, have not been as fortunate. It is thought that 20 to 30 people a year attempt to take their lives by jumping into the waters of the Niagara River. Most of them go over the Horseshoe Falls. Between 1850 and 2011, an estimated 5,000 bodies have been found at the foot of the falls.

One of the most recent Niagara Falls miracles occurred on July 8, 2019.

An identified man was seen sitting on the fencing at the brink of the Horseshoe Falls. By the time police arrived he had climbed over the fencing and jumped into the river.

The police put into action the plan for body recovery in the basin of the falls. However, the man survived and was found by the authorities sitting on some rocks near the observation platform for the Walk Behind the Falls tour groups.

Daredevils, thrill-seekers and tourists from around the world are all drawn to the magnificence of the natural wonder that is Niagara Falls.

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