Skip to Main Content

Gallery of Battered Barrels.
Gallery of Battered Barrels.

Barrel Daredevils of Niagara Falls (Closed)

Field review by the editors.

Niagara Falls, Ontario

Tumbling in a barrel over Niagara Falls is a freeway to fame for a select group of crackpots and egomaniacs. No great skill is required: just build a really strong barrel, fill it with a lot of padding, and figure out a way to get into the river above the Falls without getting caught. Twenty minutes later, you're a star.

Annie Edson Taylor and her barrel.
Annie Edson Taylor and her barrel.

Of course, as the Niagara Daredevils Exhibit in Niagara Falls makes clear, it's not quite that easy.

Greeting visitors to the exhibit is the red, white, and blue "Death Barrel" of George Stathakis, who survived the Falls but died of suffocation waiting to be rescued (His barrel companion, a turtle named Sonny Boy, survived).

Peculiar stories are everywhere in the exhibit, their details offered in gaudy tabloid-style displays. Bobby Leach was the first man to survive a barrel trip, but died later when he slipped on an orange peel. Karel Soucek went over the Falls with a case of beer and survived, but six months later he dropped in the same barrel from the roof of the Astrodome and died.

Charles Stephens unwisely tied an anvil to his feet as ballast; his barrel survived, but all that was left of Charles was his tattooed right arm. "He was," reads an accompanying sign, "apparently torn apart."

Risk-takers have launched themselves over the Falls on a jet ski, a kayak, and a barrel made of inflated inner tubes named "The Thing." All of them died, but the kayak escaped with just a dent.

Weaver's Rapids Queen.
Weaver's Rapids Queen.

The first human to go over the Falls and live was Annie Edson Taylor, who did it on October 24, 1901 -- her 63rd birthday. "I was on the brink of the awful precipice," says a disembodied voice at Annie's display, apparently reading from her account. "The barrel seemed to pause for one second... The sensation was one of indescribable horror...." The exhibit offers a life-size cutout of Annie next to an exact replica of her oak barrel, which had been custom-built by a Canadian maker of beer kegs. The original barrel survived the Falls but did not survive a subsequent custody battle.

Plunge O' Sphere.
Plunge O' Sphere.

William "Red" Hill was a fulcrum of daredevilry: he witnessed Anne Taylor's plunge; he rescued "Smiling Jean" Lussier after he went over the Falls (his barrel is in a museum on the American side); he re-used the Death Barrel of George Stathakis to ride the "Boneyard of Niagara" Whirlpool and was saved from the Whirlpool by his son, who later died in his own attempt to conquer the Falls. Red's barrel is covered with a hand-painted resume of life accomplishments: "Gassed and wounded four times in World War I." "Rescued 177 bodies from the Niagara River." "Saved girl from burning house 1896" (If true, Red would have been only eight years old).

Dave Mundy's "no frills" barrel was built, according to his display, "to show the media he could survive" (He did). Another of Mundy's barrels resembles an oversized aluminum beer keg, and is open -- daring visitors to play daredevil by crawling inside. A third Mundy barrel resembles a large hot dog or foot-long sandwich; it got stuck on the brink of the Falls, and Mundy later agreed that this probably saved his life.

On January 27, 2015, Canadian Will Gadd became the first to survive going up the Falls when he climbed a frozen section all the way to the top using ice axes.

For all it's insanity -- or perhaps because of it -- going over Niagara Falls in a barrel has been treated relatively lightly by the authorities. William Fitzgerald, who rode his "Plunge O' Sphere" over the Falls in 1961, was fined only $100. One daredevil quoted in the exhibit called the fines, "a cheap price to pay to get into the record books." Today the maximum fine in Canada is $10,000 and the Niagara Falls Parks Commission strongly discourages barrel daredevils, which has apparently triggered some resentment.

A recorded TV news broadcast in the exhibit strikes a defensive tone: "A spokesman for the Niagara Falls Parks Commission says the Commission is not a party pooper."

Barrel Daredevils of Niagara Falls

IMAX Theatre Niagara Falls

Was in the lobby of IMAX Theatre Niagara Falls, which is at the base of the impossible-to-miss Skylon Tower. Up the hill from Horseshoe Falls, on Fallsview Blvd between Murray and Robinson Sts.
Closed in 2020.

More Quirky Attractions in Ontario

Stories, reports and tips on tourist attractions and odd sights in Ontario.

Explore Thousands of Unique Roadside Landmarks!

Strange and amusing destinations in the US and Canada are our specialty. Start here.
Use's Attraction Maps to plan your next road trip.

My Sights

My Sights on Roadside America

Map and Plan Your Own Roadside Adventure ...Try My Sights

Mobile Apps

Roadside America app: iPhone, iPad Roadside America app for iPhone, iPad. On-route maps, 1,000s of photos, special research targets! ...More

Roadside Presidents app: iPhone, iPad Roadside Presidents app for iPhone, iPad. POTUS landmarks, oddities. ...More

Ontario Latest Tips and Stories

Latest Visitor Tips

Sight of the Week

Sight of the Week

Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum, Gibsland, Louisiana (May 20-26, 2024)

SotW Archive

USA and Canada Tips and Stories

More Sightings