This is a novel by Eileen Enwright Hodgetts featuring the fictitious Evangeline Murray as she challenges the majestic Niagara Falls in 1923. The romantic thriller is entwined with facts of the majestic Niagara Falls, the residents, the jumpers and perhaps answers why people wanted to brave the fall.
The year is 1923 and the Jazz Age is in full swing. Evangeline Murray, a young widow from Ohio, is recruited by the Women’s Freedom Movement to represent the spirit of modern womanhood by going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Evangeline eagerly embraces her opportunity to achieve fame and fortune, until she sees the power of the river and begins to understand the risk she is taking. Joshua McClaren, an enigmatic battle-scarred veteran of World War I, and the best boatman of the Canadian shore of the Niagara, reluctantly agrees to launch the headstrong Evangeline. Before the barrel can be launched each of them will have to face their own demons, painful secrets will be revealed and the Niagara River will claim two more lives.
Eileen wrote in her promotion: ” “From the very first time I saw the Falls and visited the Daredevil Museums, I have wondered why anyone would take such risks. However, I have to admit that the rushing water has a powerful pull as it cascades smoothly and endlessly over the edge and down into the churning rapids. I have visited the Falls many times in all seasons of the year and I have seen tourists from all over the world turn to each and ask the same question. “Why would anyone do that?” The Girl in the Barrel is my answer to that question.”
Some historical facts
History records that the first person to plunge over Niagara Falls in a barrel and survive was Annie Edson Taylor, an enigmatic school teacher from Michigan who turned up at Niagara Falls on October 24, 1901 with a barrel that she had constructed herself. She was forty-six years old.
She certainly does not endear herself to the animal lovers among us when it is revealed that she first tested the barrel on a stray cat that she named Iagara. It was only after the cat had survived the fall that she decided to take the risk herself.
She dressed for her adventure in a long skirt and a flowery hat and rested her head on a heart shaped pillow. She took the 200 foot plunge at 4:30 p.m. and fifteen minutes later she was retrieved at the base of the Falls. When she was released from the barrel she was heard to say that “no one ought ever do that again”. It is not recorded what the cat said, but it may have been something similar.
Annie Taylor survived the plunge in a barrel, but is it possible to survive without a barrel? It has happened although many would call it a miracle.
On July 9th 1960, seven year old Roger Woodward and his 17 year old sister Deanne, set out on a boat ride through the upper Niagara with family friend James Honeycutt. About a mile before the brink of Horseshoe Falls the motor malfunctioned and ceased running. Unable to restart the engine, Honeycutt began to frantically row in the direction of the shore but the strong current was carrying the boat swiftly towards the Falls. Honeycutt ordered the Woodward children to put on their life-preservers, although he was too busy rowing to put his on.
The boat capsized in the rapids above the Falls separating Deanne from both Roger and Honeycutt. Deanne held onto the side of the boat until a wave forced her under. When she surfaced she was spotted by John Hayes and John Quattrochi who were standing on the shore. Hayes grabbed Deanne by her fingers and called for help from Quattrochi. Together they pulled her from the water.
Roger Woodward was in Honeycutt’s arms until the raging water pulled them apart as they rode over the crest of the Falls. Roger was forced into the deep water at the base of the Falls but quickly floated to the surface, due to his life-preserver. The crew of the Maid of the Mist spotted his orange life-jacket and, after eight minutes and three approaches, they finally rescued him by using a life ring. He sustained only minor cuts and bruises and his sister was treated for shock. James Honeycutt did not survive.
Roger describes the moment he went over the brink. “I fell into a cloud,” he says. “There was no sensation like vertigo, no sensation in my stomach. There was a dense cloud of mist and I could not see anything and only hear the roar.”
The Canadian Horseshoe Falls has a brink of 792 metres and a height of almost 51 metre with 2,271 litres falling every second.
Since 1850, more than 5,000 people have gone over Niagara Falls, either intentionally (as stunts or suicide attempts) or accidentally. After a death in 1951 it is now illegal to go over Niagara Falls, whatever method is used and hefty fines are imposed.