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Suspension Bridge Going over the Niagara River

Daredevil of Niagara Falls Chapter IV

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 , where you might yourself feeling some of the same things that those stunters felt, high up and alone over the roaring  Niagara Gorge.

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

We start today with Maria Spelterini, Niagara’s only female tight-rope walker.

To say that the woman had a serious pair of extremely dainty feet which easily navigate tight-ropes would be an understatement. In fact, Ms. Spelterini, who first crossed over the Niagara Gorge on July 8th, 1876, as part of the celebration of the American Centennial, used a two-and-a-half-inch rope to perform her walk across the Gorge, thinner than most.

Maria Spelterini performed several times in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, once with peach baskets strapped to each foot as she crossed the chasm, and once with her wrists and ankles chained together. She had an illustrious career, performing in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Jersey, and Catalan.

Happily, Ms. Spelterini, according to all the records, survived her career—though she took a nasty fall while trying to ride a bicycle across a tight-rope in Rosario, Argentina in 1877.

David McDowell is our next daredevil, but history is very short on his exploits. He appears to have crossed the gorge in Niagara Falls, while balancing on a narrow railing of  the Suspension Bridge on August 10th, 1881.

Why was he walking on the railing of the bridge?

Well, the record indicates—sometimes confirms depending on what source you read—that the man was totally wasted. Unlike Stephen Peer from our last entry, who fell during a drunken crossing at night across the Niagara Falls gorge, McDowell appears to have survived his walk.

He never came back, though, and there is no news on where and when he died or whether or not it happened of old age in bed, or from some other crossing.

Next up is Frank Brown, another daredevil who has a very light record.

Mr. Brown appears not to have been a tight-rope walker, but instead, is the first person we’ve written about to try actually swimming across the rapids from one side to the other. Starting from the foot of the American side of the Niagara Falls, he would reach the Canadian shoreline in four minutes, forty-six seconds.

Not bad, right?

We don’t know the fate of Mr. Brown either, unfortunately. He’s another ghost who fades into the history books rather than sinking to the bottom of the rapids.

Clifford Calverly, who has literally three lines to his name in the history books, tight-rope walked across the Niagara Falls gorge in 1887. That’s right. Mr. Calverly was seventeen years old when he crossed, and when he did cross, he set a speed record. Mr. Calverly finished his walk in two minutes and thirty-two seconds, comparing pretty well to the average fifteen to twenty minutes that others to cross performing their daredevil feats in Niagara Falls.

He crossed several times and in a variety of ways, from hanging by an arm and a leg, to skipping rope, to taking a relaxing sit while on the wire with a wheelbarrow and a chair.

So today, you read about the first woman to ever tight-rope walk across the gorge, a man who walked across drunk, another who swam across the Niagara Falls, and a third who set a speed record. These inspirational people worked hard and risked their bodies for the spectacle, for the cheering, for the adrenaline, and in turn they helped capture the imagination of thrill seekers and set the stage for more stunts to come.

So, the week’s daredevil stories wrap up, and we at the Nightmares Fear Factory salute the brave men and women who brought such horror and danger to the Niagara Falls in hopes of creating everlasting memories and engaging spectacles.

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.

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