In a time before cats could achieve fame by appearing on YouTube, one courageous feline followed her destiny over the brink of the Horseshoe Falls.
October 19, 1901: Five days before Annie Edson Taylor made history by surviving a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel, her manager performed a test-run with an orange and white cat, appropriately named “Niagara”.
Did Niagara survive the plunge? Some local reporters cynically claimed the cat must have drowned. Annie declared that Niagara “was alive and hopped out” when the barrel was opened, for otherwise she wouldn’t have had the courage to follow through with her stunt.1 Since Niagara didn’t have a choice in the matter, some members of the public, as well as the Humane Society, declared the experiment to be an act of animal cruelty. To conserve the supply of oxygen, Niagara did not accompany Annie inside the barrel on her trip over the Falls on October 24, 1901, but the cat did pose for pictures with her afterward.
It’s unclear what exactly became of the orange and white cat named Niagara. When Annie appeared on the Pan-American Esplanade on November 3, she was accompanied by a black cat named “Iagara”.2 It’s assumed the real Niagara either ran away, died, or was stolen during the excitement of October 24.
Iagara accompanied Annie and her barrel on publicity tours around the country. Unfortunately, Annie’s manager, F.M. Russell, soon abandoned Annie, taking the barrel and the cat with him.3 It was rumored that Russell had even replaced Annie with a younger lookalike. By early 1902, an impoverished Russell sold Annie’s barrel to the Gamekeeper Company, a Chicago show troupe. It’s unknown what happened to Iagara. Annie Edson Taylor died destitute and mostly forgotten in 1921.
- “Barrel Wasn’t Wet”, Buffalo Express (Buffalo, NY), 21 October 1901. Source: digital scan courtesy fultonhistory.com.
- “Mrs. Taylor is Viewed by Crowd”, Buffalo Courier (Buffalo, NY), 3 November 1901. Source: digital scan courtesy fultonhistory.com.
- “Has the Famous Cat and Barrel”, Buffalo Courier (Buffalo, NY), 26 January 1902. Source: digital scan courtesy fultonhistory.com.
Fig. 1: Fellow daredevils, Annie Edson Taylor and Niagara the cat, posing with their famous barrel (October, 1901). Courtesy Niagara Falls Public Library Local History Collection, online at nflibrary.ca.
Fig. 2: Mrs. Taylor’s barrel being taken out for an experimental trip over Niagara Falls (October 19, 1901). Scanned from Over Niagara in a Barrel by Orrin E. Dunlap. Courtesy Niagara Falls Public Library Local History Collection, online at nflibrary.ca.
Fig. 3: “Says She Will Go Over the Falls Today”. Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), 20 October 1901. newspapers.com.
Fig. 4: “Special Attraction”. Sandusky Star Journal (Sandusky, OH), 9 December 1901. newspapers.com.
Taylor, Annie Edson. Over the Falls. Mrs. Annie Edson Taylor: 1902. Can be found online at archive.org: https://archive.org/stream/overfallsannieed00tayluoft#page/n3/mode/2up.