There were no 401(k) plans or Social Security checks at the start of the 20th century. If you hadn’t saved enough money to live comfortably in your later years, you could end up in the proverbial poorhouse. That was the troubling future that Annie Edson Taylor was facing in 1901. Then in her 60s, the “very prim and proper” lady had taught school for years, but ultimately found herself penniless after a sad turn of events in which her husband died in the Civil War and she lost her only child soon after birth. So she came up with a plan: She’d become the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. As the famous Queen of the Mist, Taylor was certain that the notoriety would fund her golden years. Sealed into the padded barrel with a 200-pound (91-kg) anvil attached to the bottom as ballast, Taylor washed over the rocky falls on Oct. 24, 1901. It also happened to be her 63rd birthday. She survived, virtually unscathed.
One woman's plan for retirement:
- Despite her miraculous achievement, the event clearly shook Taylor to her core. She later 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 Fall."
- Sadly, Taylor never found the financial security that she so desperately sought. Her manager absconded with the famous barrel, and interest in her story was tepid. She did make a little money posing for pictures and selling 10-cent biographies at a Niagara Falls souvenir stand.
- “Her stage appearances did not work out that well,” said historian Sherman Zavitz. “She just didn’t seem to have the kind of charisma or personality (...) to carry off that kind of thing very well.”