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Daredevils of Niagara Falls - Chapter V

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.

We’ll take a look at a few more tight-rope walkers this edition, and finish with another tragedy. Samuel J. Dixon was a photographer from Toronto, Ontario.

He crossed the Niagara Falls Gorge (in Ontario, Canada) over the wildest part of its course, somewhere above the Whirlpool Rapids. Dixon was interesting in that what he used for a balancing pole was actually a bunch of parts of a gas pipe all welded together.

Dixon’s journey went from the Canadian side, to the American side, and then back again. During the return journey, Dixon undertook several stunts. He lay down on the rope, hung from a single hand, and stood on one foot for a bit.

Samuel J. Dixon would survive the ordeal, probably resuming his photography career after realising that crossing deadly heights on a tiny rope was probably not the secret for a long, happy life.

Couple of short entries, here.

James E. Hardy crossed sixteen times in the summer of 1896, and would survive to a ripe old age.

There’s an odd mention of a ten-year- old boy named Oliver Hilton who claims to have used Hardy’s rope to cross the Gorge. There’s no actual proof that this happened—no newspaper clippings, no tourist advertisements, nothing. However, Hilton was supposed to have been a professional circus rope walker so you never know. Maybe!


Captain Matthew Webb was a professional sailor from Shropshire, England. He appeared in the Niagara Region in 1883.

He was already famous, having performed several extremely difficult feats of swimming during the course of his sailing career. Many of those feats were performed in order to save human lives which had been swept overboard or somehow become lost at sea.

There was a particular incident in 1873 where Captain Webb jumped off the commercial sailing ship Russia to save a drowning sailor who had been swept off the deck. He won a golden medal for the feat.


But Captain Webb was not all paragon—not all hero. There was a bit of dash to him, some showmanship, some hunger for fame. In this vein, he swam the English Channel in 1875, then wound up in Niagara to swim the Whirlpool Rapids for the promise of $2000, which was quite a pile of cash back in 1883.


This is all foreshadowing, you understand.


At 4pm, on July 24 th , 1883, Captain Webb was rowed out to the Maids of the Mist berth in the middle of the Niagara Falls Gorge by Jack McCloy, who might as well have been wearing a black hood.

Webb dove into the water.


He made the swim in two minutes, but wound up being sucked underwater somewhere near the vortex of the Whirlpool Rapids.


There’s some debate about where, exactly, he went under, but four days later his corpse was recovered near Queenston. So, there’s no doubt, at least, that it was indeed dragged under the rapids.

Captain Webb would join the host of ghosts crowding the bed of the Niagara Gorge, a once-heroic sea captain who died for the roar of the crowd. His ghost adds a special chill, a certain magical foreboding to
the Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada tourist industry.

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.