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The Barrel Ride Pioneer

The Barrel Ride Pioneer

We continue our look at the daredevils of Niagara Falls here at the Nightmares Fear Factory in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. We tip our hat to them, and in honor of their memory we invite you into the depths of the Fear Factory itself, where you might yourself feeling some of the same things that those men felt, high up and alone over the Niagara Falls.

It’s just that you’ll be creeping through the dark and cold halls of the Nightmares Fear Factory, instead.

Today is a historic day on the Daredevil Chronicles here, because we’re going to talk about the very first barrel stunt to ever happen in the Niagara Falls gorge.

Having just imported himself from England to Philadelphia, a man named Carlisle Graham wasted no time in creating a five and a half-foot barrel of oaken staves and iron rings to hold himself, then put out that he would climb into the barrel and let the waters of the Niagara Falls gorge rush him down the waterways.

Widely publicised, Mr. Graham made himself a spectacle before ever he had even started out by boasting to local newspapers but the feat he was about to attempt.

The man covered himself in waterproof canvas, and stuck himself in the barrel. He left his arms slightly free so he could grasp iron handles he had built inside the barrel, and the lid was closed over his head. Reportedly, the barrel was airtight.

The first time he was sent into the water, somewhere near where the Whirlpool Rapids are now, Mr. Graham emerged from his barrel a half hour later and some unspecified distance quite a ways down the gorge.

He reported being ill and disoriented but otherwise relatively undamaged. This led him to announce that he would undertake the same journey but with his head outside the barrel. Before he could, though, friends of his named George Hazlett and William Potts both replicated his trip and survived.

Another person tried to swim the rapids without a barrel and unfortunately lost his life. James Scott became a permanent resident of the Niagara Falls gorge on August 18, 1886.

Perhaps goaded by all these attempts, Mr. Graham attempted his head-outside-the-barrel trip, and while he survived he also sustained hearing damage during the trip.

The barrel ride pioneer Carlisle Graham would make several subsequent trips, once being caught in a whirlpool eddy and nearly suffocating during his journey.

Mr. Graham’s barrel would become famous for conducting the first female solo navigation of the waterways below the Niagara Falls in the form of pilot Martha Wagenfuhrer of New York.

It would also kill his friend Maude Willard who attempted to ride it with her fox terrier so that she could perform a double-act with Mr. Graham. The itinerary for their trip was for Ms. Willard to ride the barrel past the Whirlpool Rapids before she would disembark, with the two swimming the remainder of the way.

Unfortunately, Ms. Willard was caught in a similar whirlpool eddy for several hours. She might have been fine, but her fox terrier’s nose somehow became caught in the barrel’s only airhole. Unfortunately, both were killed by drowning and suffocation.

They became permanent residents of the Niagara Falls gorge on September 7th, 1901, hopefully with the fox terrier giving the dog Jumbo from a previous episode some company while Maude mingles with the other ghosts of fallen daredevils.

It is a chilling reminder of the lives that have been lost to try to create a sense of wonder and a sense of terror around the towering Niagara Falls.

Just like we try to do.

Come visit us at the Nightmares Fear Factory, where the ghosts of the fallen daredevils may well be waiting to meet you too.


1.  Daredevil Boat Survivors

2.  Daredevils Man vs Nature

3.  Funambulists

4.  Daredevil Anna Taylor

5.  Graham's Barrel