Though a majority of the daredevils associated with stunts at Niagara Falls are men, some of these adventurers have been women.
Signorina Maria Spelterini, for example, became the first woman to cross the Niagara River gorge on a tight rope. A 23-year-old buxom and beautiful woman of Italian descent, Spelterini performed her journey across the gorge on July 8, 1876 using a two and a quarter inch wire. On July 12, she made another crossing, this time wearing peach baskets strapped to her feet. On July 19, she performed the stunt blindfolded and on July 22 she ventured across the gorge on a tight rope with her ankles and wrists manacled. Four days later, she made her final crossing over the gorge. Spelterini never performed there again.
On Sept. 6, 1901, Carlisle Graham – a daredevil who traversed the Niagara River rapids numerous times, loaned his barrel to Buffalo resident Martha Wagenfuhrer, who became the first woman to safely navigate the rapids and whirlpool alone.
A day later, Graham arranged a performance with his friend, Maude Willard. The plan called for Willard to ride the barrel through the rapids to the Whirlpool, and then she and Graham would swim the remainder of the stunt to Lewiston. Willard climbed in Graham’s barrel and charged through the rapids, but the barrel became entangled in the whirlpool for several hours before she was rescued. Willard died of suffocation. The nose of Willard’s pet fox terrier, who accompanied her on the journey, was stuck in the barrel’s only air hole.
Perhaps the most famous female Niagara Falls daredevil is Annie Edison Taylor, who became the first woman to challenge Niagara Falls in a barrel on her 46th birthday, which was Oct. 24, 1901. A Michigan school teacher and a widow, Taylor was dressed in a long black dress and a flowery hat when she climbed in her barrel, which was packed with padding and a small mattress. The barrel plunged over the Horseshoe Falls and she survived the journey with just minor cuts and bruises. When she was pulled from the barrel, Tyalor said, “Nobody ought ever do that again.”
Stories of the many daredevils who have challenged the falls and the gorge are brought to life, and relics from their adventures are showcased, at the new Daredevil Gallery at Niagara IMAX Theatre. The daredevil exhibit features the world’s largest collection of Niagara Falls history, including actual barrels and artifacts along with the engaging stories of Niagara’s heritage and tales of the daredevils.
- Daredevil Exhibit
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