Daredevils of Niagara Falls | Peter Nissen and the Whirlpool Rapids
Boating through the Whirlpool Rapids is a daunting challenge. Some have been successful while others have not survived the wrath of the rapids.
In July 1900, Peter Nissen arrived at Niagara Falls to take on the Niagara River. He brought a custom-made boat designed to withstand the rigors of the rapids. The vessel was 20 feet long. It was completely decked over with the exception of a cockpit in the center. Nissen constructed air compartments in the front, back and sides of the cockpit.
Nissen’s first trip through the rapids was successful, although his boat became trapped in the Whirlpool for more than an hour before it was brought ashore. The next day, Nissen finished the journey from the Whirlpool to Lewiston.
Over the winter, Nissen rebuilt his boat. It was longer and two feet narrower with an eight horsepower steam engine and a larger rudder. After completing multiple successful runs in the river just below the falls, Nissen felt prepared to challenge the rapids.
On October 12, 1901, he rode the boat through the rapids, ducking into a crawl space under the cockpit. During another excursion through the rapids, Nissen and friend James Rich were conducting depth soundings in the Whirlpool when the boat was caught in the Whirlpool’s vortex and damaged severely. Nissen and Rich narrowly escaped death, and the boat sank.
Charles Percy became the first person to ride the rapids in a boat in August 1887. He made three trips through the rapids in 1887. During his last adventure, he narrowly escaped death when his boat sank.
On July 4, 1888, Robert Flack was killed when he tried to duplicate Percy’s feat. He used what he said was a “secret” buoyant filling, which turned out to be wood shavings. Flack secured himself into his boat with harnesses, but the boat over turned and Flack was unable to free himself before drowning.
Visitors can experience the stories of the many daredevils who have challenged the falls and the gorge and see 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.
The natural splendor of Niagara Falls and the dramatic adventures of daredevils of the past are vividly presented in the IMAX movie, “Legends and Daredevils.” The exhilarating film details the remarkable vistas of the raging waters of Niagara Falls and tells the story of when Native peoples Native peoples worshipped the thunder spirits, and when the first European encountered the region. The movie also introduces viewers to daredevils like the Great Blondin, who completed a death-defying tightrope walk over the river in 1860, and Annie Taylor, a 63-year-old schoolteacher who became the first person to plunge over the falls in a barrel.
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