Remember when Niagara Falls was considered THE place for honeymooners? Would you be surprised to know that all started back in the early 1800’s?
According to the website, www.infoniagara.com, Niagara Falls was established as the ideal honeymoon destination by the French in 1803. “It has been said that Napoleon’s brother, Jerome Bonaparte, travelled by stage from New Orleans to spend his honeymoon in Niagara Falls, after his marriage to Elizabeth Patterson, daughter of a Baltimore merchant, and returned home with flowing reports.” Historian Sherman Zavitz, however, traces the notion to Theodosia Burr, daughter of Aaron Burr, who, in 1801, took a wedding tour of the falls after hearing about its wonders from the Mohawk Chief, Joseph Brant. Upon her return to New York City she extolled the beauty of the falls to her New York Society friends and the rest, as they say, is history.
Regardless of how Niagara falls became a tourist and a honeymoon destination, during the 19th century The Falls at Niagara attracted visitors from all over the globe, a symbol of the majesty and power of a young nation.
John Qiuncy Adams declared the falls an “icon of the American Sublime…vast, unmeasureable, unconquerable, inexplicable.”
Of his visit to the falls, Charles Dickens wrote, “I seemed to be lifted from the earth and to be looking into Heaven.”
In 1831, Fanny Trollope, mother of my favorite 19th century author, Anthony Trollope, visited Niagara Falls with her family and wrote about her climb to view the falls in her book The Domestic Manners of Americans, “the giddy stairs which scale the very edge of the torrent…on which, shudder as you may, you must take your stand or lose your reputation as a tourist.”
Beginning in 1846, a ferry service was made available to cross the Niagara River just below the falls, but by 1848 business dropped due to the construction of the first Suspension Bridge across the falls. The owners of the ferry service reinvented themselves as a sightseeing cruise which sailed within a short distance of the Horseshoe Falls and the Maid of the Mist continues today.
Prince Edward visited Niagara Falls in 1860, the first tour of America by an heir to the British throne. The New York Times article describes how the Falls were “decorated” for the visit: “To-night two hundred immense Bengal lights are burning at the Falls, and the sight is the most magnificent I have ever witnessed — lighting up the heavens for miles around. All colors of the rainbow were in turn shown through the waters, and the whole affair was a wonderful success in the pyrotechnic art. The Prince is astounded at the sight, and has already manifested his impatience to go to the Falls.”
The Falls was a destination of intrigue when, in July 1864, a supposed meeting between Horace Greely (NY Tribune Editor) and southern dignitaries (the Copperheads) took place with hopes of brokering a peace without Lincoln’s support and much to the President’s annoyance. “It appears that a person of no less position than Mr. HORACE GREELEY has been carrying on a sort of private negotiation with some important members of the Confederacy, who have been staying for that purpose on the British side of Niagara Falls.” (London Times) Perhaps in light of this occurrence, Jefferson Davis visited in 1867, where, in the town of Niagara, “a pleasant confederate society” had sprung up.
By 1875, business interests around Niagara, were promoting death defying feats in order to draw crowds. A French tightrope walker named Blondin “walked” across the falls no less than three times. “The result was an unprecedented influx of people…the increase in facilities for seeing the falls has certainly not taken the edge off the public’s appetite for sensational performances at this place…” (New York Times)
Thus began a long history of attracting daredevils, particularly those who tried to survive a trip over the falls. But did you know that the first person to successfully go over the falls in a barrel was a woman? Want to guess how old she was? Would you believe 63?
On October 24, 1901 Annie Edison Taylor climbed into an airtight barrel and, with inside air pressure compressed to 30 p.s.i. , was sent over the falls. She emerged battered and bruised but alive. She’s an example of what poverty can push a person to do for she was a penniless widow and hoped that by going over the falls, she could earn money on her fame. It was not to be and after twenty years as a street vendor in Niagara, she died as poor as she started.
The fascination with these feats has not abated apparently. One of the Wallenda’s is scheduled to traipse across the falls on a tightrope on June 15th.
By the 1880’s Fredrick Law Olmstead was leading a Free Niagara movement to save Niagara Falls from the titans of industry who had built factories and power plants around the falls and had further plans to harness the waters of the Niagara River and the power of the falls for electricity. The Niagara Appropriations Bill was signed into law in 1885 snatching the falls from the hands of those who were willing to divert water flow. The bill created the first state park in the United States, saving the falls for future generations.
In the late 19th century, my great grandmother visited the falls with her Canadian Mandeville cousins, the three fashionably dressed women shown in the two pictures included in this post. My great grandmother is seated to the right in this picture and to the left in the picture above.
Niagara Falls, a spot of wonder, a place of intrigue, and the beginning of many happily ever afters.
Have you ever visited Niagara Falls? I did with my family when I was a child and still remember the pounding sound and the “death defying” barrels on display there.
Anne Carrole writes about cowboys who have grit, integrity and little romance on their mind and the women who love them. You can check out her contemporary romance, Re-ride at the Rodeo, at The Wild Rose Press. Or find her at facebook at www.facebook.com/annecarrole, www.facebook.com/lovewesternromances or www.annecarrole.com