Women Wearing Barrels

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Ray Hahn

Women Wearing Barrels

There are plenty of reasons why a woman would wear a barrel, but please forgive me if I am unable to think of a good one. The six-card set seen here is intended to be comic, which may be the best reason for anyone to wear a barrel.

Other reasons that may come to mind are to advertise a product, like insurance,

or to protest something like high taxes.

And then, there is Anna “Annie” Edson Taylor, who thought she may get rich if she dressed up and climbed into a barrel, then have it float down the Niagara River and plunge over the Horseshoe Falls.

She did exactly that on October 24, 1901, her 63rd birthday, but she never got rich.

Anna Edson was born in 1838 in Auburn, New York. She was one of eight children, her father, Merrick Edson was a miller and operated a flour mill until his death in 1850. Mr. Edson died a wealthy man and left enough money to keep his family comfortable. Anna attended a teacher-training college and graduated with honors. During her years at college, she met and married David Taylor. They had but one son who died while still an infant. David also died soon after. As a widow Mrs. Taylor spent her working years as a much sought-after teacher in several locations, including Bay City, Michigan, Sault Ste Marie, Minnesota, and San Antonio, Texas. She even traveled to Mexico City to find work but was unsuccessful and returned to Michigan.

By 1900, she was experiencing some hard times. Her home burned to the ground and an investment failed. She had great difficulty finding work because of her age. And there were no pension plans and Social Security did not exist. Mrs. Taylor then decided she needed a way to earn enough money to secure her future and happened on the idea that she needed to become famous by doing “something” for the first time.

Settling on the idea of being the first person to ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel was not new, but doing so and living to tell the tale would earn her a substantial sum. Designing a custom-made barrel of oak and iron took months of planning, and many delays were expected because no one wanted to be part of a project that would result in a certain suicide.

Annie decided that her 63rd birthday (October 24, 1901) would be the day she would get rich. The crew of helpers she assembled loaded her barrel into a rowboat and she climbed inside. The lid was screwed down and the barrel was put over the side of the rowboat.

The river currents carried the barrel over the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, which has since been the site for all successful daredevil stunts at Niagara Falls. Rescuers reached her barrel shortly after the plunge. Taylor was discovered to be alive and relatively uninjured, except for a small gash on her head. The trip itself took less than twenty minutes, but it was some time before the barrel was opened and Taylor was helped out.

After her journey, Taylor told the press, “If it was with my dying breath, I would caution anyone against attempting the feat … I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the falls.”

She briefly earned money speaking about her experience but was never able to build much wealth. She wrote a memoir and returned to Niagara Falls to sell it at a small sidewalk kiosk where she had her book, a dozen or so postcards and a cardboard cutout where visitors could take pictures for a dime each.

Her final years were spent in the Niagara County Infirmary for the Aged, a facility that stole her identity and crushed her spirit. (One James Munson, MD, was the state appointed superintendent of the infirmary. Annie Taylor was one of 991 ‘inmates.”)

To the day of her demise, Anna Edson Taylor attributed her bad health and near blindness to her trip over the falls. She died penniless on April 29, 1921, aged 82. Public donations were sought to pay the costs of her funeral. She is interred in a section of the Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls known as the “Stunter’s Rest.”

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It seems that from the series with the green frame, there were other postcards with women doing all kind of work. This one is in my collection. The lady has high heels for a construction job!!

CC-all_0003b

Great story! I remember reading the stories of others who went over the falls while visiting the Canadian side a few years ago. The museum even had a couple of the barrels which were used.

The postcards of women wearing barrels were designed to be suggestive without actually featuring any “naughty bits”.

Thanks for another true life story captured, in part, on postcards! I have been to the falls and can not imagine anyone going over regardless of money or fame.

Past Article

Timothy Van Staden

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When biography becomes a topic in postcard history, we must look at how the subject behaves in other aspects of life, not just their profession and career. As we look at Sir Henry Irving you may be shocked to learn about his reaction to a question his wife asked. It’s not always easy to learn the unpleasantries.

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