In the summer of 1969, an odd problem occurred at the breathtaking Niagara Falls, one that placed the famous waterfalls in real danger. News soon reached the public that the glorious spectacle would be drained. While folks from all over the world began pondering what would be discovered below the roaring waters, nobody was prepared for what was actually awaiting them.
How It All Began
While the French explorers Samuel de Champlain and René Brehan de Galinée were the first to hear about the existence of Niagara Falls from Native Americans, it was Father Louis Hennepin who gave us the first eyewitness account of this marvel of nature in 1678. What he described was at once wondrous and horrific.
He described it as such: “The Waters which fall from this horrible precipice, do foam and boil after the most hideous manner imaginable, making an outrageous noise, more terrible than that of thunder.” Most would figure that his description would have people traveling far and wide to take in this beauty. However, given its current reputation, the response was utterly bizarre, and some would even say, chilling!
What Lies Beneath
Despite the majestic description written by Father Louis Hennepin, folks from the 17th and 18th century didn’t exactly hitch up their stagecoaches and flock to upstate New York to take in the Niagara Falls with their own eyes. Maybe it had something to do with the location or the territory that it was placed in.
Great beauties aside, colonists in those days seemed way more preoccupied with witch trials and territorial wars. That said, things would change drastically by the 19th century — if not the technology, then certainly the hearts of men and women. Yet where many people saw just beautiful nature at its purest, others saw financial gain, and things were about to get a lot more interesting.
Folks Came In Flocks
While we might look at the 19th century as backward and associate it with events and phenomena like the Wild West and Civil War, it was actually a revolutionary time for the world. Thanks to inventions like the railroad, cross-country travel became pretty common among the masses. This meant that a lot more people could feast their eyes on cool sites around the United States.
Niagara Falls was one of these locations, and it soon housed a number of amenities and became a huge tourist destination, especially among honeymooners. While big bucks were now being made off the falls, there was an even deeper potential that people saw, one that wouldn’t necessarily end well for all.
Powered By Rushing Waters
As the 19th century was approaching its end, industrialists saw that the rushing waters came with a lot of value outside of tourism. If the force of Niagara Falls’ current could be controlled, it could be used to power nearby mills and factories.
More and more innovative and entrepreneurial minds got in on the idea and began running tests. With that, 1895 saw the world’s first hydroelectric generating system come into creation. An array of factories began popping up around the falls. One man in particular took notice and wondered how the situation could be bettered. He stepped onto the scene — and took things to the next level.
Niagara Falls’ Full Potential
The station as it stood was innovative and far beyond anything anyone had ever seen up to that point in time. However, just a year later, a man responsible for some of the greatest inventions of the 19th century arrived on the scene — one Nikola Tesla. He wanted to see where improvements could be made.
Alternating current had always been one of Tesla’s many specialties, and he used that knowledge to divert the power from Niagara Falls all the way to the city of Buffalo, New York, 20 miles away. This brought some dramatic changes to the region and eventually the world. Tesla could have never grasped the full impact that his creation would have.
While they have been modernized and expanded upon, Tesla’s methods are still used today. Niagara Falls currently produces up to 2.4 million kilowatts of power. Also, it still holds the crown for being one of the world’s top tourist destinations. It has been estimated that up to 30 million people visit the site per year.
From a financial perspective, things are looking as good as ever for the mighty spectacle. But there was a time when Niagara Falls was put out of commission and even almost ruined by human hands. Let’s go back to a more turbulent time in American history, a time of urgency and discontent.
An Issue With Some Stones
Back in the late 1960s, people began looking at the majestic tourist attraction with their heads crooked to the side. Something was off with Niagara Falls. Scientists became aware that Niagara Falls might in fact be in some very deep trouble.
Over the thousands of years that the falls had been flowing, a ton of stones and rocks had accumulated at the bottom falls. Now, the flow alteration that they were making was becoming quite noticeable. It was at that point that a rescue plan was pitched and shared with the masses. Ultimately, this plan would have a lot of people jumping to some wild conclusions.
Draining The Landmark
In the summer of 1969, it was announced by engineers that the American side of Niagara Falls would be drained. For the first time in over 18,000 years, water would not be cascading down the historical landmark. They would ultimately turn to employing a cofferdam as a method of diverting the water down another path.
It would cover the distance between the mainland and Goat Island. With that space eventually going dry, engineers would be able to clear the stones and soil that had been piling up at the bottom of the falls. This would actually come to bring on a world of panic to many people — for several different reasons.
Fears of Flooding
The news of the impending drainage left room for plenty of concern. Never in history had the flow of water at Niagara Falls been diverted from its original path or held back from its natural route. The mass of water was deep, strong, and quite daunting. Many people feared that messing with nature like this could have some dire consequences on the nearby communities.
People could foresee their towns getting pummeled by waves and flooded by thousands upon thousands of gallons of water. However, the true fears on everyone’s mind were concerning what would happen once the falls were dried. That waterfall meant a source of livelihood for a lot of people.
Shaking The Flow of Tourists
People who had businesses surrounding Niagara Falls had fears that they’d lose thousands due to a lack of tourists. Some held faith that tourism would be just as good as ever, if not better. It would only happen once in a dozen lifetimes that the falls would be drained.
Who wouldn’t want to behold such a unique sight, one that would probably never be able to be looked upon again? Despite a lack of water, many of the surrounding businesses would go ahead preparing themselves for a busy tourist season. Unfortunately, folks with that glass half full mindset would end up being sorely disappointed.
Niagara Falls Goes Dry
In June of 1969, Niagara Falls was drained, and the operation to clear the rocks below the falls came underway. Once the water had completely stopped flowing in, trucks took to the area and began removing rocks and dumping them far upstream.
They even went as far as turning to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for some expert advice. Some expected the riverbed beneath the waters that had been falling for thousands of years would reveal old boats and coins. However, this wasn’t the case by a long shot. What they’d find during the operation was worse than anyone could imagine.
Predictions as to what would be found under that rushing current varied from beautiful lost wonders of the past to macabre visions that nightmares are made of. Once the waters began to recede, the dry riverbed yielded up some incredibly creepy yet surprising sights.
When the mission first went underway, nobody could have guessed that they would have found skeletons beneath those once-rushing waves. However, with every passing day, engineers would come across more bones. At the time, one couldn’t be certain if they belonged to humans or large animals who’d accidentally fallen into Niagara Falls. Yet the identity of some of these bones wasn’t as mysterious.
Discovering a Man and Woman
Researchers examined two of the skeletons that had been discovered and were able to determine that one was a man and the other was a woman. Given how intact they were, researches were able to piece together some sort of story. They were able to take the male skeleton and determine that his cause of death had been from jumping in the falls.
However, they were not able to come up with a date of death. The poor man could have fallen into the lake 1,000 years ago, or even just five years prior to the discovery. The case surrounding the female skeleton, however, was a little more complicated and possibly much more tragic.
Romance To The Fullest
When it came to the female skeleton on the riverbed, no cause of death could be detected by studying the bones. However, seeing as she was at the bottom of Niagara Falls, it was assumed that she drowned. That said, the mystery didn’t stop people from speculating what had happened to her.
According to a wild theory spread by a handful of individuals, the young lady witnessed the love of her life swept away into Niagara Falls. Being completely heartbroken, the young lady decided to meet him in the afterlife and get there the same way he did. And while most other people must have thought that cases like this are rare, they had another thing coming.
A Favorite Spot To Say Farewell
As the mission of removing rocks from the bottom of Niagara Falls continued in earnest, the lowering water levels continuously revealed even more bones. Apparently, the man and woman they discovered weren’t exactly being innovative thinkers when they allegedly took their romantic desperation in for a swim in the falls.
Tourists throughout the generations probably would have never guessed that they were marveling at the surface of a watery mass grave. It might be shocking to think about, but even today about 40 people a year dive into the falls and get washed away forever. Of course, not everyone who goes over Niagara Falls does so with negative intentions.
While the majority of the jumpers at Niagara Falls are people who fell on bad times, a handful of victims didn’t bound into the rushing waters with the intention of losing it all. These people simply wanted to break a record, prove a point, or impress someone in the process.
Many stunt performers and daredevils over the years have headed off to Niagara Falls and tried to do what many said was impossible. Some would attempt to swim from one side to the other, but the fierce current could be overpowering. Others tried surviving a plunge off the falls. While most of these thrill seekers perished, some of these brave souls in fact lived to tell the tale.
Meet Annie Edson Taylor
At the age of 61, a former schoolteacher named Annie Edson Taylor decided to attempt what many deemed impossible. She wanted to plunge over Niagara Falls and live to tell about it. She didn’t do it for fame or fortune, but merely for survival. Climbing into her senior years, she was an out of work widow, and her only child had passed away in infancy. The teacher traveled as far as Mexico City to find work, but had very little luck.
That’s when she decided to secure some money to carry her into her senior years by jumping into a barrel and riding off the falls. On her 63rd birthday, October 24, 1901, she went over Niagara Falls. Miraculously, she was completely fine save a cut on her forehead. She stated that she would never perform the stunt again. As the 1980s rolled around, somebody else wanted to give her trick a try.
The Tragic Tale of Karel Soucek
Karel was a professional stuntman from Canada. While usually he’d be rocking his tricks on a motorcycle, he decided to take his next endeavor to Niagara Falls and mirror Annie Edson Taylor’s barrel stunt. He was able to construct multiple barrels and test them over the water’s edge. On July 2, 1984, he took his master barrel and went over Niagara Falls. When they found him, he was bleeding but otherwise completely healthy.
This taste of success led to another barrel dive a year later. Sadly, in another barrel drop attempt at the Houston Astrodome into a pool, Soucek ended up hitting the rim of the pool instead of the water. Like the skeletons found in 1969, he died on impact. Back a decade and a half before, while removing the rocks at Niagara Falls, engineers found themselves scratching their heads over a problem.
Someone Forgot To Do Their Homework
The 1969 discovery of the bones suddenly changed the way people viewed Niagara Falls. While it was once solely seen as a place of beauty, it was now very intimidating for some and seen as dangerous. It made the masses feel like their lives were truly fragile. Some felt the bones should be left in that resting place and go undisturbed.
When the plan was laid down, nobody knew a whole lot about Niagara Falls and what kept it strong. They’d soon find out that moving the rocks could end up ruining the falls completely, as those rocks actually supported the cliff. Their rational backup plan was to put a permanent dam in its place. This also wouldn’t work, as researchers came to the conclusion that it’d weaken the falls. Just one option was left.
Making Things Right
The engineers decided to stop interfering with nature and let things run their natural course. They left the stones that they hadn’t yet removed, along with the bones, and let the water rush back into the falls. Everything went back to the way it had been for the past 18,000 years.
Today, the 1969 drain job is largely forgotten, and the Niagara Falls remains one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet. However, we must question just how much longer will this wonder be around us. With climate change slowly but surely changing our world, we might soon find ourselves watching this monument drain itself.
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