NIAGARA FALLS, NY (Oakwood Cemetery) - Join us August 9, 2014 for a Grand Garden Walk of the Niagara Portage. Stop at each of the 5 sites and drink in the gorgeous gardens. Sites include the Niagara Falls Public Library, Oakwood Cemetery, The Niagara Arts and Cultural Center, Schoellkopf Park and the Walnut Avenue Community Garden. Hours vary for each site, so download the brochure/map and check out all the information.
Our friend Patrick Sirianni is a Niagara Falls researcher from the Canadian side of the border. He found this article which mentions both Capt. Matthew Webb and Carlisle Graham, two of our permanent residents. Interesting idea, however I think the river would have been no match for White's Cork Suit. - Tim Baxter
July 16th-17th 1886
George W. White, the Oswego barber, who came here yesterday with the announced intention of swimming the rapids this morning clad in a cork suit about three quarters of an inch thick, said last evening that he had successfully swam the Lachine Rapids on the St. Lawrence, and added:
"The Whirlpool Rapids are much worse, but with my cork suit I can get through all right. I went down along the bank here and had the folks point out the spot where Captain Webb was killed. His mistake was in trying to dive through the mountain of foam where the outside currents of the river surge to a peak. There is a sunken rock there against which he struck. In making my attempt I will simply float on the surface and will save my strength to push away from any rocks. If, as people say, I will be sucked under the surface by the undertow I can stand it for five minutes. The current will carry me along better underneath and it would be best, for the passage occupies only four minutes."
A bystander expressing a disbelief that White could do any such thing, a pail was quickly filled with water, and White immersed his head in it for four minutes.
"You fellows need not think I am fooling," he said. "for I intend to go through. It will knock Graham and his barrel sky high, and he will not have a chance to exhibit himself much."
In a reply to a question as in his object in making the attempt, White replied: "I am a poor barber, and if I go through safely I will make a fortune. If I don't, it will be little loss to the world."
At 9 O'clock last evening White heard that the Canadian detectives were after him, and he secluded himself. Before going away White arrange with a few persons to witness his attempt, so that there would be no dispute about the feat if he got through. The general sentiment is that if White gets in the rapids he will be killed. The police on the American side say they will not interfere with White.
At 10 O'clock this morning a crowd of people had gathered on the bank expecting White to make his appearance, but up to this hour (10:30 a.m.) he has not done so.
The Next Days Commentary from the Niagara Falls Gazette
A careful search yesterday failed to discover the whereabouts of Geo. W. White who wanted to swim the rapids in a cork suit. The last positive record of him was late Thursday evening in the streets of Niagara Falls Ont. It is not known positive where he stayed Thursday night. It is claimed by some that he is hiding from the police, and as soon as he can get away from them, will make his trip.
The police make a mistake when they announce that they will arrest any person attempting to go through the rapids on the grounds of "self murder." This fact known to a class of deadbeats, who will come here make a great blow of what they will do, get in the newspapers, and then skip out for fear of police interference. Cpt. Rhodes was afraid of police. Heliaio Balsia was also afraid of arrest, but neither was half as afraid of the police as they were of the rapids. What is true of them may be said of others. At the present rate there will be several more just such cranks here before the season is over, and they should be given the assurance that if they come here to swim the rapids they must do so within an hour after they arrive or leave town. The man who spends the day and night travelling from saloon to saloon with some sort of invention which he says will safely carry him through the rapids, getting drinks by exhibiting it, will never be missed by the country at large.
White will probably never show up again, but if he should and desires to go through the rapids, he should be allowed to go, for if the dispatches from Oswego are true, surely they will not miss him.
The following is the dispatch"
Oswego N.Y. July 15th- The Geo. W. White who is mentioned in wanting to go through the rapids of the Niagara river is the barber who eloped with a girl from Amsterdam some time ago since after deserting his wife in Oswego. No attention should be paid of him.
Tim Baxter, Director of Operations, Oakwood Cemetery
In the late 1800’s there was one man who ruled the roost when it came to barrel stunting in Niagara Falls. Carlisle Graham had built his reputation on with his daring do. He was a cooper, a barrel builder by trade, and it got him thinking. “I’ll bet I could run my barrel through the Whirlpool Rapids and come out unscathed”, Graham thought.
Everyone knows of Niagara Falls with their 170 foot drop. Watching the magnificence and power of 4 of the 5 Great Lakes plunge 17 stories before your eyes is a sight to behold. When standing at the edge you can feel the earth vibrate. The mist from the water hitting the rocks shoots skyward and covers your face. It is said that negative ions are produced making the viewer feel more alive with each breath. What people may not realize is the water continues its journey through the gorge it carved out thousands of years ago. All that water, 4 fifths of the Great Lakes trying to squeeze through that tight area on its way to Lake Ontario then out to the Atlantic through the St. Lawrence Seaway. The drop in elevation, the narrowness of the river all create what in now Class 6 rapids. The deadliest rapids on earth. This is what Carlisle thought he should ride his barrel through.
On July 11, 1886 Carlisle took his barrel to the river’s edge, screwed himself inside and became the first daredevil to perform a barrel stunt at Niagara Falls. In just 30 short minutes he popped out of the barrel shaken up, but alive. What does any good daredevil do when they accomplish their goal? They do it again, only this time he upped the ante. On August 19th 1886 he went through the rapids with his head sticking out of the barrel. He came out alive again, and partially deaf after the violent trip. He made the trip several other times as well. After his success, he set his eyes on the prize, going over Niagara Falls in his barrel.
In the meantime, in Bay City, Michigan, Annie Edson Taylor had her eye on that same prize. Annie had come from an upper middle class family. Her father had left some money to get by on and she enjoyed her comfortable lifestyle. She had married earlier, but her husband passed away, and her money was running out. She needed something big to keep her in the style she had become accustomed to. She hatched her plan. She would design her barrel to go over Niagara Falls, become famous, (although that was not the goal) and rich. Well, it didn’t work out quite that way.
Annie was well ahead of her time. She was 62 years old in 1900 as she plotted her future course. Her barrel was genius. She attached an anvil to the bottom to keep her upright. She sealed the barrel by soaking rags in tar and stuffing them between the staves. She had padding and a harness to hold her in place. She even pressurized the barrel with a bicycle pump to give her extra oxygen on her trip.
On her 63rd birthday, October 24, 1901 she ventured out into the river in her barrel and rode the wooden contraption over the edge of the Horseshoe Falls. Included in those waiting for a sign of the barrel at the base of the Falls was Carlisle Graham. Low and behold, the barrel popped up and they were able to snag it and drag it ashore. Carlisle broke open the lid and exclaimed, “My God, she’s alive!” Annie emerged, in shock with a gash to the head, but alive. Her thoughts? “Nobody ought ever do that again!”
Annie went on to tour the nation, but had her barrel stolen by her manager who hired a younger prettier girl to play Annie. Her dreams of gathering a fortune faded in the mist. Annie never trusted Carlisle. It is said she thought he wanted to steal the plans for her barrel. Carlisle on the other hand never cared for Annie as she accomplished what he didn’t do. The both lay in the Stunters Section of Stranger’s Rest in Oakwood Cemetery. Side by Side for all Eternity.