Daredevil Residents of Oakwood Cemetery will Come to Life for Wallenda Walk
June 08, 2012 at 10:07 AM
Oakwood Cemetery (763 Portage Rd., Niagara Falls, NY 14301) is home to some of the area’s most infamous daredevils. Throughout history, Niagara Falls has enticed the brave and some would say, audacious, to challenge its roaring cataract.
Thanks to local volunteers, the stories of these unique men and women will come to life through Stunter Tours June 15 and 16. Stunter Tours at Oakwood Cemetery are fun, reasonably priced, and informative events for the whole family.
Oakwood is the only cemetery in the world with a special section for those intrepid souls that have battled Niagara. Visitors to Oakwood will venture towards the middle of this downtown property where a triangle of land includes famous stunters, along with body parts of those that have been found following tragic encounters with the mighty Niagara Falls.
Annie Edson Taylor (October 24, 1838-April 29, 1921)
The first person to survive the trip over the Horseshoe Falls in a barrel was 63-year old Annie Edson Taylor. A former teacher and a widow, Mrs. Taylor found herself out of luck and penniless, but still with adventure coursing through her veins. When she read about the Pan American Exposition coming to the area in 1901, an idea came to her in a flash. She designed herself an oak wood barrel and set out to conquer the cataract; with the goal of obtaining fame and fortune.
On the afternoon of October 24, she accomplished this great feat however her celebrity and financial situation did not improve. Due to poor management, she was left penniless and forced to sell her self-published story on the streets of Niagara Falls, NY. She eventually died alone in Lockport, NY on April 29, 1921.
Carlisle Graham (May 1, 1851-May 1, 1909)
Lying next to Annie Edson Taylor in Oakwood Cemetery is her former stunting competitor, Carlisle Graham. Mr. Graham was the first person to shoot the Whirlpool rapids in a barrel. On August 16, 1886 he made another trip but this time with his head outside of the barrel. He survived but lost his hearing. On his fifth trip on July 14, 1901, he was caught in a whirlpool eddy for 20 minutes. On September 1 later that year, he arranged a double stunt with fellow daredevil Maud Willard. The plan was that he would meet her half way and they would swim to Lewiston, NY. She was never to make it. Graham died from a cold, in Detroit on his birthday in 1909.
Maud Willard (1873-September 7, 1901)
This young dance hall actress from the Midwest hoped to achieve the same success as her friend Carlisle Graham. Unfortunately she was swept to her death in the Whirlpool rapids, after being caught up and whirled around in her barrel for hours. Her pet fox terrier did survive. As legend has it, he snuffed out most of the air in the barrel by sticking his snout in the only air hole. The New York Times reported that “death most likely came gradually”.
Francis Abbott (1803-June 30, 1831)
A traveler, Francis Abbot was a young man who became known as “the Hermit of Niagara”. Ironically he never intended to stay in Niagara Falls for eternity. Each time he set out to leave, the Falls inevitably called him back. He eventually lived as a shut-in on Goat Island, where he would write in Latin. He bathed in dangerous locations and became infatuated with the scenery of the Falls. When he bathed, he would sometimes hang by a single piece of timber. However, something went awry one day in June of 1831. His clothes were found but he was not. Finally, his body was discovered by fishermen at Fort Niagara.
Homan Walsh (March 24, 1831-March 8, 1899)
At just 16 years old, Niagara Falls resident Homan Walsh and his kite, the “Union” won a contest of history. On January 30, 1848, Walsh was the first to successfully link up a light line across the Niagara River with his kite, and built the first Suspension Bridge. His kite line was used by engineers to pull across increasingly heavier and stronger lines until steel cables could be drawn.
Matthew Webb (January 19, 1848-July 24, 1833)
The first recorded person to swim the English Channel, Matthew Webb was brazen enough to believe he could swim Niagara’s Whirlpool rapids. Dressed only in a red swimsuit, he left in a small boat and within a few minutes a large wave swallowed him into the foaming white water. He was never seen alive again. His body was found four days later in Lewiston, NY.
In Victorian times, his grave was often visited by lady travelers who laid flowers upon it. Some travelers have even claimed to have run into his ghost, and apparently, he was very regretful about his final swim.
Where the Stunters Rest Tour at Oakwood Cemetery
(763 Portage Rd., Niagara Falls, NY 14301)
$10 per person, children 12 and under FREE
Friday, June 15, 2012 at 2pm
Saturday, June 16, 2012 at 10am and Noon
Tickets can be purchased on WalkTheFalls.com
Michelle Blackley is the Communications Manager at Niagara Tourism & Convention Corporation (NTCC). Besides having the pleasure of calling Western New York home, Michelle has lived throughout New York State, including New York City, and abroad in Dublin, Ireland. A Niagara County native, she is a globetrotter at heart. With a background in journalism, book publishing and publicity, she explores Niagara County to report its happenings on the Niagara USA blog. Please contact Michelle at email@example.com or follow her @shellblackley.