Free Niagara by Susan Sinclair Edele

The noise created by 75,750 gallons of water falling with 280 tons of force is like nothing I’ve heard before – maybe a roaring train with blizzard-like wind. We heard it – this roaring, swirling swooshing – the instant we stepped out of the van and beheld Niagara Falls for the first time.

It is the same roar it’s made for over 12,000 years.  With our four children tucked safely into the minivan, we travelled 543 miles first to Akron, Ohio, for a family reunion in 2005.  We then made the 245 mile drive to Niagara.

A brief yet informative summary of the Falls courtesy of our handy AAA Tour Book explained that early entrepreneurs tried to utilize the power created by the falls, using the water energy to cheaply run their machinery.  Concerned citizens and environmentalists lobbied their representatives and law makers with a Free Niagara petition to save the park from the evil fees associated with industrialization; they succeeded and no new factories were permitted, establishing Niagara Falls State Park in 1885, the oldest state park in the U.S.

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Our visit, almost 120 years since the Free Niagara campaign passed, was anything but free.  The inside of the park was NOT closed to entrepreneurs.  Our expenses started with a parking fee of $10.00.  Before we even saw the water, we saw picnic tables, concession stands, souvenir shops, ticket booths, and plenty of restrooms that were set back far enough to not ruin the view of the falls from the Canadian side. To my dismay, the only thing between the falls and my children were three metal railings, like one would see winding passengers up and down the lines in an amusement park.  I saw my own children hanging on those three horizontal, metal poles, no thicker than a baseball bat, and I had to turn away.

The plaques posted throughout the naturally formed park noted that the fascination with the falls was not uncommon.  In fact, people are so entranced with the falls that they purposefully float down the Niagara River and willingly go over the edge.  During our drive to the park, I had a sternly worded conversation with my children about how long they would be grounded they went over the falls – on purpose or accidentally.  According to another plaque, Annie Taylor climbed into her wooden barrel and floated over the falls in an effort to gain fame and fortune in 1901. She was an out-of-work dance and music teacher, determined not to end up in a poor house.  She spent her last few dollars creating her own barrel, lined with a few mattresses to help her survive the impact.  On her 63rdbirthday, her friends sealed her into her barrel and watched her float over the edge and down the Falls.  As I continued to read, I could not help but think what kind of friend did she have?  They’d seal her in a barrel rather than lend her a few dollars?  Did her mother not give her the “If all your friends went over the falls in a barrel, would you do it too?” speech?

Annie survived, a bit bloody from her 167 foot fall, she is quoted as saying, “”No one ought ever do that again.”  After that, the three metal bars were installed around the edges of the falls as a deterrent to others.  She achieved the fame, but no fortune, and died destitute in 1921.  Since that time, 14 people did not heed her advice. Nowadays, the fine for going over the falls is $10,000.00, a much stronger deterrent than three metal bars.

We spent the entire day at the falls before we crossed the bridge into Canada with all four children tucked safely back into the van.  After touring the falls and the cave behind the falls, and a ride on the Maid of the MiBIO:st riverboat at the bottom of the falls, and lunch from the concession stand eaten on the picnic tables, and souvenirs to remember our trip, our family of six cost us about $304.00 – including the $10.00 for parking. We didn’t leave the Falls quite as broke as Annie.  So much for a Free Niagara.

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BIO: Susan Sinclair Edele is a wearer of many hats – writer, daughter, dog whisperer, mother, chauffeur, sister, editor, wife, teacher, referee, and reader. She teaches at Lindenwood University. She is a Scribejar.com contest winner for her 100 word story about the world’s worst wedding, and a contributor of flash fiction and nonfiction to several literary journals.

PHOTOS by Sarah Leamy c2018.