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Oakwood Cemetery: home of the daredevils who challenged Niagara Falls and lost.
Oakwood Cemetery: home of the daredevils who challenged Niagara Falls and lost.

Daredevil Graves of Niagara Falls

Field review by the editors.

Niagara Falls, New York

Countless thousands of people have gone over Niagara Falls, or been tumbled and spun in the Niagara River rapids and its "Boneyard of Niagara" whirlpool. They wound up dead. Beginning in the late 19th century, however, a few -- the daredevils of Niagara Falls -- went through the watery ordeal deliberately and believed that they would live. Those that believed wrong often ended up on the American side, in Oakwood Cemetery.

Annie Taylor, her cat, and her barrel.
Annie Taylor, her cat, and her barrel.

Most are buried in Oakwood's "Stranger's Rest" section, an area reserved for body parts, suicides, anonymous murder victims, and other people who don't have Oakwood family burial plots -- which would include most of those who challenged the Falls.

They are the tourists who never left. Here are a few:

Annie Edson Taylor

Annie was the first known person to go over Niagara Falls and survive, probably the oldest (it was her 63rd birthday), and she did it in oak barrel of her own design. But the Falls was vengeful. Annie thought that she'd get rich; instead her barrel was stolen, she wound up broke and homeless, and when she died there was no one to pay for a grave or a tombstone. Oakwood helped donate the money for both, and had Annie's stone engraved not with the traditional years of birth and death but with her accomplishment: "First to Go Over the Horseshoe Fall in a Barrel and Live. October 24, 1901."

Francis Abbott

Captain Matthew Webb: a dashing fellow dashed to death in the Niagara Rapids.
Captain Matthew Webb: a dashing fellow dashed to death in the Niagara Rapids.

Francis died long before Oakwood Cemetery existed -- so his corpse was dug up and reburied there. His cracked tombstone is so old that it's now illegible, but Francis was famous in his day, known as The Hermit of Niagara. He lived as a recluse on Goat Island at the rim of the Falls, and tourists would often go out of their way to catch a glimpse of him. On July 31, 1831, Francis unwisely decided to take a bath in the turbulent river. A ferryman found his clothes on the shore; his mutilated body washed up several miles downstream. He was around 30 years old.

Charles Addington

Maud Willard wanted to be famous. She got her wish, kind of.
Maud Willard wanted to be famous. She got her wish, kind of.

The tombstone of 21-year-old Charles briefly describes how he became dead: on June 21, 1849, he was horsing around with a little girl, Antoinette DeForest, pretending to throw her into the river. She panicked, he lost his grip, she fell in, he dove in to save her. Both were swept over the Falls.

Captain Matthew Webb

Captain Webb was already famous -- the first person to successfully swim the English Channel -- when he arrived at Niagara Falls from England on July 24, 1883. Webb said that he would also be the first person to successfully swim the Niagara River rapids. He planned to do it underwater, believing that he would see and avoid approaching rocks. When his body was recovered, it was found that Webb had not drowned; he had been smashed to death. His English widow didn't know what to do with the body, so she had it buried next to Francis Abbott, Oakwood's other celebrity. For years it was the most visited spot in the cemetery.

Carlisle Graham

More prudent than Captain Webb, Carlisle -- a barrel-maker by trade -- became the first person to successfully survive the rapids by riding it in a sealed, padded barrel. That was on July 11, 1886, and it introduced the barrel as the Niagara daredevil's preferred mode of transport. Carlisle took several trips this way, surviving to become something of a daredevil authority. He tried to talk Annie Edson Taylor out of riding a barrel over the Falls, and was reportedly the one that opened her barrel afterward and exclaimed, "My god, the woman is alive!" Carlisle died several years later of asthma in Detroit, but asked to be buried with the other daredevils in Oakwood. Annie Edson Taylor was buried next to him; the two have matching tombstones.

Maud Willard

The mist of Niagara Falls moistens the graves of those who wouldn't leave the Falls alone.
The mist of Niagara Falls moistens the graves of those who wouldn't leave the Falls alone.

On September 7, 1901, Maud, a 20-something actress, became the first woman to ride the rapids in one of Carlisle Graham's sealed barrels -- several weeks before Annie Taylor's even more daring barrel stunt. Unfortunately, Maud took along her little dog, and the barrel became trapped for several hours in the Niagara whirlpool. When the barrel was opened Maud was dead, suffocated, but the dog was alive; it had apparently wedged its nose in the barrel's tiny air hole. "Lost Her Life in the Whirlpool Rapids," is engraved on Maud's tombstone, which was paid for by Carlisle Graham. When he was later buried at Oakwood, he asked that his funeral procession pass by Maud's grave.

Kirk Jones

Kirk Jones made the mistake of going over the Falls twice.
Kirk Jones made the mistake of going over the Falls twice.

On October 20, 2003, Kirk became the first known person to go over the Falls without even a lifejacket on and live. He claimed to be suicidal, but later admitted that he had lied to evade the fine for reckless behavior that he otherwise would have had to pay. Like Annie Edson Taylor he expected to get rich and didn't, and like Captain Matthew Webb his one taste of fame was not enough. So on April 19, 2017, Kirk went over the Falls again, this time in a large plastic ball with a snake named Misty. Kirk's body was found about 12 miles downstream; Misty was never recovered. No one claimed Kirk, so his body was cremated and given to Oakwood, which buried it beneath a simple tombstone engraved, "Niagara Falls Dare Devil."

Prophet Isaiah Henry Robertson

Prophet Isaiah lived in an elaborately painted Niagara Falls house, and claimed that when the world ended in 2014 all of Earth's souls would fly past it. Its Christian iconography would give them one last chance at salvation before arriving at the Falls, where they would be separated into the sheep (heaven-bound) and goats (hell-bound). The Falls, which obliterated many and spared few, was a natural spot for this apocalyptic winnowing. However, the world did not end in 2014, and Prophet Isaiah died on January 25, 2020. His tombstone carries an upbeat epitaph for any sheep-visitor who seeks it out: "If I don't see you again, I will see you when you come through the Pearly Gates."

Also see: Barrel Daredevils Exhibit

Daredevil Graves of Niagara Falls

Oakwood Cemetery

763 Portage Rd, Niagara Falls, NY
Oakwood Cemetery. I-190 exit 22. Turn west onto US-62/Niagara Falls Blvd. Follow US-62 west for three miles. Turn right at the stoplight onto Portage Rd. At the second stoplight, turn right into the cemetery. Once inside the gate, bear right immediately and follow this road until it spilts; most of the graves are within this triangular split. Ask at the office for directions to specific burials.
Daily dawn-dusk. Office M-F 9-4. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Remnant of the USS MaineRemnant of the USS Maine, Niagara Falls, NY - < 1 mi.
Second Coming House of Prophet IsaiahSecond Coming House of Prophet Isaiah, Niagara Falls, NY - < 1 mi.
Twist O' The MistTwist O' The Mist, Niagara Falls, NY - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Niagara Wax Museum of History: Lincoln's Haircut Chair, Niagara Falls, NY - < 1 mi.

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