Turns out Steph and I are 150 years too late to see the Niagara we were hoping to see—a pristine geological wonder created some 12,000 years ago. Perhaps I should have read Ginger Strand’s wonderfully informative and fascinating account of the area, Inventing Niagara: Beauty, Power, and Lies,” before we invested so many hours on the road and in a car line waiting for entry into Canada, clutching our passports and taking pictures of the iconic red maple leaf flag.
The falls themselves are phenomenal— the streets surrounding it, filled with a Times Square-like lineup of fun houses and wax museums and souvenir shops, not so much. If you strip away the throng of tourists and the selfie sticks waving around your head you can imagine the awesomeness once witnessed by a tribe that called themselves “Onguiaahra.”
When Stephanie asks me, “How, exactly, did this place get the reputation for being a romantic getaway?” the short answer is this: it became the “Honeymoon Capital of the World” after many rich and famous honeymooners like Aaron Burr’s daughter Theodosia and her groom and Napoleon’s brother, Jerome and his bride, honeymooned there. Years later when came the opening of Erie Canal, the building of railways, and eventually automobiles, making Niagara Falls became accessible to middle class couples. Then Hollywood provided even more inspiration with movies like Niagara, a 1943 film noir thriller starring Marilyn Monroe and Luv, a slapstick romantic comedy starring Jack Lemmon.
When I post my Niagara Falls photos on Facebook, friends warn me to stay away from barrels, some of them unaware of the real-life story of a teacher who went over the falls in a barrel with her cat. It takes a retired math teacher, Ray, to post the story we both know about Annie Edson Taylor, a 63 year-old schoolteacher who was the first to plunge over the falls in 1901. Taylor, who was strapped for cash because, well, she was a teacher, got the idea for an attention-grabbing stunt that might bring a little fame and fortune her way. Stuffed into a pickle barrel lined with pillows, she made the head-knocking journey over Horseshoe Falls and lived to tell about it. Unfortunately this would be her 20 minutes of fame and it would soon be forgotten. Additionally, she died penniless. Between 1901 and 1995 15 other people went over the falls, and 10 survived. One of those who didn’t was Robert Overcracker, who attempted the jump on a jet ski. But my favorite Niagara Falls feat was performed by the French aerialist Blondin, who navigated across the gorge on a tightrope where he performed a headstand, drank champagne, and cooked omelets. I like his style!