Niagara Falls Daredevils – How many people have gone over the Falls in a barrel?

Niagara Falls Daredevils

The information source is from an article written by George Seibel prepared April 23rd 1986. Mr. Seibel was at the time a historian for the City of Niagara Falls, Ontario and the historian for the Niagara Parks Commission.

The article was entitled “A List Of Daredevils 1829 to 1985 Abridged”.

Between 1901 and 1985, ten people went over the Falls in a ball, barrel or rig. Seven were successful while three died in the attempt.

Since 1985, five more persons have gone over the Falls. They include Dave Munday (1995), the duo of Peter Dibernardi and Jeff Petkovich (1989), Jessie Sharp in kayak (1990) and Robert Overacker in jet ski (1995). Sharp and Overacker died. Thus far 15 people have challenged the Falls of Niagara between 1901 and 1995. Five have died.

There have been an equal amount of persons who have announced their intentions to do so and not carried out their plans or unsuccessfully attempted and or aborted attempts but have not actually conquered the mighty cataracts.

All the daredevil challenges have been over the Horseshoe Falls. The rock talus at the base of the American Falls has precluded any successful trips thus far.

Daredevils of Niagara Falls

Daredevils can be best summarized as persons who wish to take conscious risks with their lives with the emphasis on survival. However, some risks are so great that the chances of survival based upon a balance of probabilities become so little that they become suicidal in nature. It may be a thin line of definition but a line none the less. Now days, the art of being a daredevil has become so sophisticated that chances of survival are almost predictable.

Most of the contraptions that the daredevils used usually had a nickname or had a statement printed on it (such as something political, a charity, and a sponsor or of course their own name). The numbers never really were an issue. Weight, balance, ballast and of course the odds of survival were the only true numbers the daredevils cared much for. Most importantly they pursued fame and fortune or notoriety. None have ever become rich and/or lastingly famous….yet.

If you weren’t the very first, remarkably the members of the public didn’t care beyond perhaps watching the event. Spectators came not watching for a successful conclusion but rather the deadly consequences of failure.

Daredevils of today can’t compare to those of forty years ago because of changing water conditions and technological innovations. Niagara Falls has 12-15 suicides each year. This number has been fairly constant for the past century. The difference between the two types of persons is that by pure luck…someone may survive. If they do survive, they are considered a daredevil.

It wasn’t until some years after the bitter fighting along the shores of the Niagara River during the War of 1812, that Niagara started to come into its own as a tourist attraction. By the 1820’s there were three hotels catering to the visitors of Niagara Falls. The hotel owners were responsible for the first stunt over the Falls in order to attract attention of members of the public and to boost the tourist trade. The hotel owners acquired a condemned Lake Erie schooner named the “Michigan”. The hotel owners then advertised in advance that they would send the schooner over the Horseshoe Falls on September 8th 1827.

Most of the animals placed aboard were able to safely escape before the ship broke apart on the shoals and was swept over the Horseshoe Falls. This daredevil event took place as advertised before an estimated crowd of 10,000 people. This heralded the beginning of 170 years of recorded history of men and women challenging the Niagara River and the Falls in face of death for fame and fortune. Like a giant roulette wheel, they came willingly and gambled with their very lives.