NIAGARA FALLS WAS A HELL RAISING TOWN
The wild and woolly west had nothing on The Front — that rocky mile beside our wildest river. Barkeeps defied the army, Wild Bill Hickok lassoed buffalo and they sailed boatloads of wild animals into the rapids — all to lure suckers for the sharpers waiting to fleece them
A MACLEAN’S FLASHBACK BY DUNCAN McLEOD
WHEN Wild Bill Hickok, the legendary western scout and gunfighter, arrived in
Niagara Falls, Ont., one day in 1872 as the star of the world’s first wild-west show there, he looked like almost any other prosperous visitor in a neat business suit—without his colorful frontier trappings or his fabled pearl-handled .44s. But Wild Bill walked with both hands in his pockets where he carried two small but deadly derringers.
His caution was well taken. Hickok was the continent’s most notorious target —he had killed eighty men—and the Front facing the Canadian Falls was the playground and workshop of some of the continent’s worst scoundrels. It became so infamous that many tourists were afraid to go there. Visitors were so systematically humbugged, swindled, blackmailed and bullied that newspapers in both Canada and the U. S. tarred the resort with their blackest prose, vaudeville comics made wry jokes about it, poets wrote rhymes about the mulcting of the innocents, guidebooks warned of the
dangers awaiting the gullible and angry voices were raised against it in the New York state legislature.
From 1825 to 1888 the mile-long Front, stretching from what is now Oakes Gardens to Table Rock at the brink of the Falls, was one of the most ruthless and ingenious clip joints in history. Originally it was a military reserve of Upper Canada, but piecemeal— except for a government road—it was taken over by a group of businessmen and showmen with the ribald huckstering facility of an air-raid siren. To attract customers to their taverns, hotels, museums, bazaars and curio shops they sailed wild animals in schooners over the Falls, staged an elaborate Indian burial ceremony and a farcical buffalo hunt—with Wild Bill Hickok in charge — and they encouraged or hired daredevils to jump into the raging river or walk across the Gorge on tightropes. They also perpetrated some of their country’s most blatant hoaxes.
Derby-hatted sharpers imported white pebbles from England and sold them to visitors as con-
gealed Niagara spray. At Burning Spring, where natural gas bubbled through the water and could be set afire, tourists bought bottled water, and found out later of course that it didn’t burn. One forgotten curio dealer launched the legend of Niagara Falls as a honeymoon resort by telling his customers the story of a beautiful Indian princess thrown into the Falls to become the bride of a god who dwelt in the mist and spray. He also sold them paintings and medallions of a bare-bosomed princess.
The Front itself, squeezed between the Niagara escarpment and the Gorge, was only three hundred yards wide, but in character it was almost as unbridled as its strange inhabitants. From the spidery suspension bridge spanning the Gorge to Table Rock, there were six large and, for those days, magnificent hotels—the Clifton House, Robinson House, Brunswick House, Museum House, Prospect House and Table Rock House. Scattered between them were souvenir Continued on page 64
“HOAX!” cried the papers but the gullible came on. to goggle at Irish Indians, buy “congealed mist,” sip juleps as Blondín walked above the Gorge.
Continued on page 64
Niagara Falls was a Hell Raising Town
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 22
stands, taverns, refreshment booths and a forest of Indian tepees. In the middle of the Front stood Colonel Thomas Barnett’s Museum, a costly ($150,000) ornamental stone building filled with everything from Egyptian mummies to Mohawk arrowheads. In a park surrounding the museum were buffalo, rare flowers, rattlesnakes and raccoons, among other "attractions.”
At toll houses guarding the roads to the Front along the escarpment, sightseers were charged a fee just to enter this curious Casbah, and inside they were boldly robbed and cheated on almost every side. Barkers dressed like Mississippi gamblers in checkered waistcoats, tight pants and carrying yellow Malacca canes marched along the Front in raucous hordes, shouting the merits of this or that hotel or tavern, trying to lead visitors to tepees where Irish "Indians” in feather headdress and beaded leggings sold cheap and often spurious handicraft for whatever they could extract from their customers.
’There were barkers for the rattlesnakes, the Egyptian mummies, Indian antiquities and Niagara spray, barkers for the firewater in the bars, for the false firewater sold at Burning .Spring and for the battlegrounds of the War of 1812, just a few hundred yards from the Front. Other barkers lured the curious or the witless to see the Whirlpool and the Lower Niagara Rapids from Termination Rock at the base of the Falls, where guides charged you nothing to go down but made you pay a "ransom” to get up again. And through the dust and din of the whole Front, hackies drove visitors to the hotels and taverns or other stopping places, where they later collected a percentage of any money solicited or stolen from their passengers.
After a visit to the Front in 1871 Henry James, the American author, wrote in disgust: "The spectacle you have come so far to see is choked with horribly vulgar shops, booths and catch - penny artifices which have pushed and elbowed to within the very spray of the Falls. The inopportunities one suffers here amid the central din of the cataract from hack men, photographers and vendors of gimcracks is simply hideous and infamous. Their cries at times drown out the thunder of the cataracts.”
Often the cries of the victims were even louder. Some were beaten when they refused to pay a ransom to get out of the Front’s more infamous establishments. The Table Rock House, a curio shop and hotel operated by Old Sol” Davis and his several sons and daughters, was openly described as "the den of the forty thieves” by the Hamilton Evening Times. Davis sued the Times for libel, and at the trial several visitors to the Front, including women, testified that they had been threatened or beaten or forced to pay ransoms in Davis’ place.
The Front, with its cupidity and crookedness, could not have survived in a more sophisticated era, but in the Canada of 1825 it would have been surprising if it had not flourished. For the hayseed with straw in his hair was not only a literal reality but, with the rube and the hick, he represented the average Canadian. It was an age of which P. T. Barnum later said, "There’s a sucker born every minute, and two to take him.” Upper Canada had only 130,000 people; Kingston was the biggest town (2,336); London had
Farmer William Forsyth had a recipe for riches: he simply fenced off the Falis
not yet been founded and Ottawa was still called Bytown. The U. S. frontier had just reached the Mississippi and the midwest still belonged to the Indians. Buffalo was booming with the opening of De Witt Clinton’s Erie Canal to Albany in 1825, but Chicago was just a fur-trading post.
In such a backwoods most of the social pleasures were improvised. A barn-raising, a wedding, an auction or a revival meeting was the occasion for a celebration. These affairs were usually accompanied by roisterous square dancing as fiddlers scraped out such tunes as Money Musk, Old Dan Tucker and Pop Goes the Weasel. Whisky was twenty-five cents a gallon, and fighting, gambling and drunkenness went with almost every public gathering.
Any excuse for a holiday from farm work or land clearing was seized eagerly, so when the enterprising tavern keepers and merchants at the Front began to stage their stunts thousands came by oxcart over muddy roads through the bush, by Lake Ontario schooners and by flatboats up the Erie Canal to join the fun.
By 1850 on both sides of the border the frontiers were being pushed back. But in Canada and the northern U. S. it was still an age of gullibility and flamboyancy. Magicians called them! selves such improbable names as the Grand Thamaturgic Psychomanteum, circuses were Hippozonamdons and trick riders were Athleolympimantheums; the naïve public would have it no other way. Midgets such as Tom Thumb, Commodore Nutt, and Miss Elfin Minnie Warren were the wonders of the age.
The Front at Niagara Falls was a product and quite logically a part of such an age. The frontier was not yet tamed and it was often lawless. Culture, comfort and respectability hadn’t had time to catch up with the pioneer. Until they arrived he was ready for almost any diversion, and for more than fifty years the Front was able to pro-
vide it—at a price. And what better place to divert the public than Niagara Falls—already hailed as the seventh wonder of the world !
The first man to appreciate the commercial possibilities of the Front was a farmer named William Forsyth. He owned land above the escarpment, and in 1817 he built a hotel on it and ran a fence down to Table Rock, overlooking the Horseshoe Falls. Only guests at the hotel were permitted inside the fence to view the Falls from this superior vantage point.
Forsyth was either oblivious or disdainful of the fact that the land below the escarpment didn’t belong to him but was a military reserve. When Sir Peregrine Maitland, the lieutenantgovernor of Upper Canada, ordered him to remove the fence, he refused. Maitland sent a squad of soldiers and they tore it down. Forsyth promptly sued for damages.
The suit dragged on and Forsyth, running short of money, sold his hotel and the property above the escarpment to Samuel Street, a wealthy and politically influential neighbor. From a later lieutenant-governor, Sir John Colborne, Street got a license to occupy the military reserve. The government kept only a sixty-six-foot-wide strip along the bank of the Gorge for a public road, but Street was told he could not place any obstruction along the Front.
Street’s answer was to call together a group of businessmen and propose a City of the Falls. They built a railway to bring Americans down the Canadian side of the Niagara River from Buffalo, and they began putting up baths, hotels, souvenir stands, taverns and a museum. When Colborne heard about it he ordered the army to halt the work. The officer in charge, remembering the Forsyth suit, had his men remove only one stone from a fence. Street sued the government for trespassing, was awarded five hundred pounds, got a deed to the whole Front
and the government was left with only its road.
That was the start of a wild tawdry seventy years on the Front, when a visitor was often entertained, invariably swindled, and sometimes risked his life to see the sights.
In addition to the cataract itself, the first big attractions at Niagara were the battlefields of the War of 1812. Nine hundred men had been killed at Lundy’s Lane, about a mile from the Falls, and Street and his friends provided guides for visitors. Street also built a pagoda, a towerlike affair from which his patrons could view the countryside without walking or riding in a carriage. To attract customers to the pagoda he circulated handbills which enquired poetically:
Would ye fain steal a glance o’er life’s dark sea,
And gaze though trembling on eternity?
Would ye look out. look down, where God hath set
His mighty signet? Come — come higher yet.
To the Pagoda’s utmost height ascend.
And see earth, air and sky in one alembic blend!
But the lure of the battlefields soon wore thin and the promoters on the Front groped for a new attraction. In the summer of 1827, in towns and villages on both sides of the border, handbills appeared with a startling notice: "The pirate ship Michigan on the eighth day of September will sail down the deep and furious rapids of the Niagara and over the precipice and into the abyss below with a cargo of furious animals.”
The Bears Jumped Overboard
There is no exact record of how many people came to see the slaughter, but the Canadian bank of the Gorge and the rapids was black with sight-seers. The excitement mounted as word swept down their ranks that the Michigan had been cast loose. On board were stuffed effigies of several notables, a buffalo, three bears, two foxes, a raccoon, dog, cat and four geese. All except the buffalo were loose on the deck.
Then the Michigan came in sight on the broad sweep of water above the rapids. On her bowsprit was the American ensign and at her stern was the British Jack. People with field glasses could see the foxes running around the deck in terror; the two bears climbed a mast, didn’t like it there and jumped overboard. The crowds cheered as they struggled to reach shore and shouted in glee as they finally climbed up the bank and vanished into the forest.
Then the Michigan, her sails billowing, struck the rapids. She pitched and shook—and broke into pieces. A cry of disappointment went up from the bank. All that could be seen going over the Falls were bits of wreckage. These were later salvaged and sold as souvenirs.
Among ' those who witnessed the Michigan’s last trip was Sam Patch, of Rochester, N.Y., who had made a local reputation by jumping off bridges and other high places into rivers. Patch announced he would jump off a hundred-foot ladder into the river below the Falls. The merchants on the Front quickly rushed out another handbill:
From the shipmasts he would jump in sport,
And spring from highest factory walls;
And proclamation soon was made
That he would leap Niagara Falls.
But when thousands gathered on the Front for the scheduled leap they
waited in vain. Finally the merchants announced that Sam had broken his leg. By that time it was too late for many to go home and they had to stay overnight in the expensive hotels and inns. The next day Sam appeared, sound of limb, and made his leap. Rut the Front had wrung two days’ lodging and food out of thousands and many angry visitors cried "Hoax!”
It was one of the first, but far from the last, swindle worked on tourists at the Front. One guide showing a visitor around the base of the Falls picked up a white stone one day.
"What’s that?” asked the tourist.
"Why,” said the guide, suddenly inspired, "it’s congealed mist. Very rare.”
The tourist bought the stone for three dollars, and the Niagara Spray racket soon became one of the most popular and profitable at the Falls. When the guides could no longer find this variety of white stone, souvenir dealers found there were mountains of it in Derbyshire, England, and began importing it.
One souvenir dealer with a slowmoving supply of medallions and paintings of Indian maidens hatched the
idea of building a myth around them. The maiden, he told customers, was a princess sent over the Falls as a bride for a god who lived there. Although North American Indians never have sacrificed humans to their gods, the gullible public liked the story and romantic women took it to their hearts.
Soon honeymooners began coming to the Falls. The astute merchants encouraged the legend and named the spume of mist in the cataract The Bridal Veil. In 1846, when the first little boat sailed around the bottom of the Falls, it was named the Maid of the
Mist, and so were all its successors. Oscar Wilde visited the Falls in 1883, observed the honeymooners and then the cataract, anti wrote? pointedly: "This must be the second major disappointment of American married life.” ("The Falls would be more impressive if they ran backwards,” he said.)
Many of these smaller hoaxes were in good fun, and it’s almost certain the public helped them along to some extent, as people do today at carnivals. But organized robbery, extortion and swindling— often helped by hoodlums and strong-arm boys was a different
thing. It became the rule on the Front, brought the whole resort into ill repute and finally helped to kill it.
The key man in this skin game was the hack driver, usually an obsequious creature who picked up visitors on their arrival by train and offered to show them the sights for a small fee. He drove them to the Whirlpool and the Lower Gorge and finally landed them at Table Rock House, the headquarters of "Old Sol” Davis and his clan. From there, stairs led to Termination Rock; nearby were Burning Spring and Colonel Barnett’s Museum.
Barnett, enterprising and honest, charged a straight fifty-cents admission, but at all the other places sightseers were told there was no fee. Inside, however, tawdry saleswomen sold worthless knickknacks at fancy prices, and visitors had to pay pug-ugly doormen anything from fifty cents to two dollars to get out again. F’rom the owners of these places the hackies collected fifty percent of the money extorted from customers, and when the ride was over they charged their passengers whatever the traffic would bear.
As the systematic swindle continued
through the Fifties tourists became more and more wary of the Front, and the merchants began to look for new lures. In 1859 they found a prize one in Jean François Gravelet, known as Blondín, a tightrope artist who did incredible things on his rope above the Gorge. He ran, turned somersaults, lay down, put baskets on his feet, while a hundred thousand people gasped and hundreds of gentlewomen fainted.
Blondín started a new golden era for the Front. Other tightrope experts and daredevils followed, though none were as expert as Blondín. Railway excursions came to the Falls from the American midwest and from New York. The merchants prospered and the crooks got even richer.
In 1867 the Front’s reputation was blacker than ever. In the New York legislature a resolution was passed protesting to Canadian authorities "the outrages on American citizens at Niagara Falls.” The Toronto Telegram countered that the worst outrages were perpetrated by a "Yankee and a scoundrel, Saul Davis.”
Then the Hamilton Evening Times referred to "the robbers at Niagara -the cave of the forty thieves, otherwise known as the Table Rock House and kept by the notorious Sol Davis and his progeny.” It was a dangerous locality for strangers, said the Times.
Old Sol promptly sued, and now, for the first time, the ruthlessness and crudity of the swindles and extortions on the Front began to come to light. At the trial witnesses came forward and told how they had been robbed and threatened, and sometimes beaten, if they refused to pay a ransom to get out of the Davis establishment.
"Enter ... all is free,” they had been told by an oily individual when they went in.
Then . . .
Dr. E. P. Miller, New York City, said he refused to pay four dollars for going to Termination Rock, and he was caught by the whiskers by one man, the throat by another, pushed out of the door and thrown to the ground. His injuries were so extensive that he was in bed for six weeks. His brother Jonathan Miller, a farmer at Nunda, Livingston County, N.Y., was so frightened when threatened that he hastily paid.
S. L. Kilbourne, a lawyer from Lansing, Mich., had to pay $4.50 for a photograph worth fifty cents. He thought it was a joke, hut when Saul Davis gave a whistle and two ‘‘large Ethiopians and two equally large Irishmen” charged into the room, he changed his mind and paid.
John Crist, from Lockport, N.Y., when told he had to pay five dollars, made a dash for the door, hut was caught and flung back.
"Here is one dollar in my purse,” he wailed. "It’s all I have except a quarter. I’ll give you all I have.”
"You’re a damned pretty fellow to come all the way to the Falls with only a dollar in your pocket,” cried Davis. "You’ll stay here until you pay.”
"Is there no Law in Canada that will give me redress?” cried Crist.
One of Davis’ sons shook his fist in Crist’s face and cried: "That’s the law in Canada, and we’re the officers to carry it out.”
Another of the Davis clan suggested: "Perhaps the ladies you are with can help you out?”
One did, and Crist was allowed to leave.
John Weir, a farmer near Peterborough, Ont., refused to pay four dollars and was threatened by Davis who said: "Damn you, I have something here that will put a window through you.”
Another Davis cursed him and said:
An Indian burial ceremony was too tame for the sensation seekers at the Fails
"If you don’t pay your bill I’ll smash you.”
Weir asked him if he was big enough. The man replied: "I’ll take your damned life if you don’t pay.”
Weir’s wife started to cry. Weir paid. Even the American consul at Niagara Falls was a victim. W. Martin Jones told how he had gone to the Falls with his wife and a secretary of the Department of State in Washington. A man named Jess Burkin opened their carriage door at the Table Rock House and said: "Ladies and gentlemen, please step out. All is free.”
Jones told him to close the door as he knew the character of the house. Burkin then "commenced to use language I would not like to repeat and threatened to throw me over the hank into the Gorge. He went away and returned with Edward Davis, son of the propnetor, who also threatened to throw me over the bank.”
The jury took only three minutes to decide that the Times was not guilty of maligning Davis’ reputation.
Ridicule Stopped the Swindles
As a result of the trial the Canadian government, which owned the entrance from the road, canceled Davis’ license to guide tourists to Termination Rock. Davis then made plans to blow off part of the rock so he could build a staircase outside the government’s property. He had the dynamite ready when Colonel Barnett tipped off the authorities. Enraged, Davis sued Barnett for perjury, but lost again in the courts.
Now, like a disgraced and jaded rake, the Front became the butt of wits and rhymers—the last stop before oblivion. John Lauderbach, a vaudeville comedian, wowed his audiences with a monologue that went like this:
Der first blace vhat ve sthopped at vas dot long pridge vhat boes der river ofer, und a man comes out und says dot I must give him vone tollar. Den ve vent on der Britisher side where a man comes oudt und dakes me to a vagón und der firsht ding dot I knowd I vas down der river pank.
Den a man comes up and says dot he musht my bicture dake. So in a leedle while he comes und says dot he musht have five tollars. I says for vhat? He says for dem bictures. So I gifes him fife tollars and I hafe not seen dem yet. Den I got in dot vagón again und a poy he vants fifty sents. So I gifes him fifty sents.
But den I vas vorse off as efer. Folder vimen dey come und say puy dis and puy dot for to take home for mine Petsey. So I pought some leedle things und dey cost me ten tollars. Den I shtharted for der vagón, but • one woman she says Sthop! you must fifty sents pay. I say vhat for? So she says for coming in der vagón up. So I pay ...
Joke by joke, Lauderbach and others were killing the Front. By 1870 many tourists were afraid to go there. Tightrope walkers had lost their appeal. In one guidebook Theodore G. Hulett advised his readers that he had placed numbered guide boards at various points of interest around the Falls so that tourists could find their way around. But he announced in his next issue that the boards had been destroyed "by a nocturnal visitation” because the Front couldn’t stand to see visitors get anything free.
As their profits dwindled the Front’s
merchants searched with increasing desperation for another Blondín to keep the businesses — and rackets — alive. Colonel Barnett thought he saw the solution in an Indian burial ceremony to attract sight-seers to his museum. He imported Indians togged out in ceremonial dress and painted to the eyebrows and he displayed a coffin reported to contain the ashes of twenty Indians unearthed from a mound near Queenston where they had lain for a thousand years.
The Hamilton Evening Journal sent a special correspondent to the ceremony. He wrote that he took a wrong turn on the way and got mixed up with an Indian selling amber ale, lemonade and firewater, but finally he found the museum and the ceremony.
The Indians formed themselves into two parallel rows, suggestive of the witches in Macbeth (he reported) while the Chief of the Six Nations, Seneca Johnson, went through a dreary monologue in the Indian tongue. The other Indians at intervals keeping up a dirgelike chant, occasionally tapping their feet on the ground and patting their hands together. The ceremony took about two hours. The Indians then formed about two deep, took up the coffin and marched the pyramidal vault in the museum garden. An interpreter thusly spoke: “Under brick pagoda we now leave our friends where they will turn to dust and leave all in the hands of the Great Spirit. That's all we got to say.”
It was pretty tame fare for tourists accustomed to boatloads of "furious animals” and death-defying stuntmen, and what was supposed to have been a serious ritual was greeted with whimsical good humor by a small crowd. Barnett admitted the venture was a flop and looked around for something more exciting.
The great buffalo hunts of the western plains had excited public imagination in the U. S. Barnett got the idea of staging a buffalo hunt at Niagara Falls, with a noted hunter to command proceedings and Texas cattle and Mexican cowhands as added attractions. He sent his son, Sydney Barnett, west to hunt buffalo and hire some performers.
Sydney reached the North Platte River in Nebraska where he met a hunter named John Omohondro, better known as Texas Jack, and together they engaged some Pawnee braves to capture buffalo. Then he told Texas Jack and the braves to head for Niagara Falls with a handful of buffalo. But in captivity most of the animals sulked and died and Washington suddenly sent orders to North Platte that the dangerous Pawnees could not be allowed to leave their reservation.
These difficulties twice compelled Colonel Barnett to postpone the hunt, each time to cries of "Hoax!” from the Front’s detractors, who by now far exceeded its supporters in numbers. In the Hamilton Journal of July 3, 1872, Sol Davis was quoted as saying that he was consulting a lawyer to sue Barnett, because he had been put to needless expense in buying two bears and a large quantity of gingerbread to entertain the large crowds expected for the buffalo hunt. Barnett advised his rival in the next day’s edition that the thing to do was to feed the gingerbread to the bears.
Sydney Barnett meanwhile had pressed farther west in his hunt for
buffalo and he helped stimulate public interest by writing newspaper articles from there on his adventures. In Kansas City he met Wild Bill Hickok and engaged him to manage the show. He also hired some Sac and Fox Indians and Mexican cowboys.
When Wild Bill arrived at the Front, Blondin was forgotten. The frontiersman, with his long blond hair, broad shoulders, handsome features and his amazing record of gun victories, was quickly made a hero. He was not a show-off, but one day he walked into a bar, saw a friend asleep in a chair and
fired between his feet with a derringer. When his friend didn’t bat an eye Wild Bill roared with laughter and the incident became the talk of the town.
On Aug. 28 about three thousand people gathered to see the Great Buffalo Hunt. The arena was an enclosure of about eighty acres above the Horseshoe Falls, fenced with ten-foothigh boards. In the centre two buffalo bulls grazed peacefully. Ina far corner of the enclosure were four Texas steers.
Cheers went up as Wild Bill, dressed in buckskin-fringed frontier costume, rode into the arena followed by four
Mexican vaqueros and three Indians. After saluting the crowd, the little band rode out to do battle. The buffalo turned docilely and watched the cowboys riding about hallooing. Finally one stepped defiantly toward his adversaries. With his huge head and beard he seemed of enormous proportions in contrast to the prairie ponies.
For a while he charged the cowboys, as the crowd gasped. Then a vaquero lassoed one of his feet. At that moment a second Mexican and his pony were knocked over by the enraged animal and it seemed to the horrified spectators as if the buffalo was only stopped from killing both rider and pony by the lasso, held by several straining cowboys. Another lasso was thrown over his horns and the struggle ended.
The other buffalo was lassoed in the same way but broke the rope. Indians approached him on foot and on horseback, shooting blunt arrows. For a time the buffalo pursued one of the vaqueros, but the sport degenerated into a farce when it became evident that he was driven by a motley crowd of Indians, white men and boys. At last he was left in his ignominy on the grounds.
The Great Buffalo Hunt received a bad press. One correspondent wrote that it was a mere sham. "Many of the Indian chiefs had to take a buffalo by the horns to make him run. Wild Bill managed by the aid of his satellites to secure a cow, which had to be goaded into desperation before it would run. The chase after the Texan cattle was also a farce, since the Indians were evidently chasing a cow that had been roaming about for the last two years in the pastures of some peaceful agriculturist.”
Even correspondents who liked the hunt got in a dig at the Front. The Cleveland Commercial Review reported that "visitors to Niagara are impressed with the idea that a swindle awaits them on every corner.”
A second hunt was held two days later, but the effect was no better. Four buffalo were turned loose, but they had to be goaded to gallop. Three, it turned out, were from Colonel Barnett’s museum park. Artistically and financially, the whole venture was a flop. Barnett was forced into bankruptcy and his museum sold to his old enemy, Sol Davis.
For the whole Front, the Great Buffalo Hunt was also the end. The public felt it had been cheated once too often and refused to go back. In 1888 the Ontario government expropriated the Front and created a public park. Souvenir stands, hotels, taverns, tepees —all were torn down and flowers and grass planted in their place.
In 1901 Mrs. Anna Edson Taylor went over the Falls in a barrel, and lived, and there was a slight renewed flurry of excitement, but it didn’t last. For years she sat on a street in Niagara signing autographs for pennies, and eventually she died in a poorhouse. Four others—Bobby Leach in 1911, Charles Stephens in 1920, Jean Lussier in 1928 and William (Red) Hill Jr. in 1951 —went over the Falls and Stephens and Hill died in the attempt. In each case the old memories of Blondin and Wild Bill were revived, but only for a day.
Today the raucous roistering Front is scarcely recognizable in quiet Queen Victoria Park with its green lawns and colorful flowers where even an Eagle Scout isn’t permitted to sell an apple on Boy Scout Day. But in a nearby souvenir shop you can buy a little white stone for a dollar. It’s really imported from England, but ask the salesgirl what it is and she’ll tell you:
"It’s congealed mist from the Falls.” ★