Annie Edson Taylor was born on, October 24, 1838, in Auburn, New York. One of eight children, she led a typical if uneventful life. She became a schoolteacher, married, became widowed, spent her working years in a variety of jobs and locales from Bay City, Michigan to Mexico City.
The century turned, and she found herself in her early 60s with a less than secure financial future. How she reached the decision that would make the next stage of her life far from typical is anyone’s guess. But by 1901, she had become determined to be the first person to ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
Taylor had a barrel custom made for her trip; it was fashioned out of oak and iron, and padded with a mattress. There was a curious lack of enthusiasm for her project among other folks – no one wanted to take part in what they viewed as certain suicide. The domestic cat that became her assistant probably shared those concerns, but lacked the means to express its doubts. So two days before the day designated for Taylor’s own attempt, kitty went over Horseshoe Falls to test the barrel’s strength. Kitty lived through the ordeal and posed with Taylor in photographs to prove it, though she wasn’t purring.
On October 24, 1901, Taylor’s 63rd birthday, the barrel was put over the side of a rowboat, and Taylor climbed in, taking with her a lucky pillow. The lid of the barrel was secured, and Taylor was set adrift, bobbing along near the American shoreline. The cooperative Niagara River carried the barrel and its passenger toward the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, and over she went.
Rescuers reached her barrel shortly after the plunge. Taylor emerged from the barrel, bruised but alive, although she wasn’t purring. The trip had taken a mere twenty minutes. After the journey, Annie Taylor told the press: “I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the Fall.”
Although she earned money from speaking engagements, she was never able to accumulate much wealth. And to add insult, her manager made off with her barrel. She spent her final years posing for photographs with tourists, planning another plunge, dabbling with a novel, attempting to reconstruct her 1901 plunge on film, and working as a clairvoyant.
Annie Taylor died on April 29, 1921, at the age of 82.