The Falls Win Again, Niagara
Plunge Destroys Man And Barrel
Incased in stout oak
staves, hooped with heavy steel, and seemingly prepared to meet a
cataclysm, a misguided
from England on July 11 defied the resistless power of Niagara, and was
utterly annihilated. The unfortunate experimenter, convinced that the
terrifying plunge of 163 ft. over the falls could be made in safety with
the proper mechanical protection, had constructed a barrel for the journey
remarkably complete in its equipment. It was 7 ft. long, built of 2-in.
oak, and bound with six 6-in. bands of steel. Inside it was padded from
end to end. Electric lights and an oxygen-breathing apparatus provided for
the occupantís comfort, and at the bottom was a 150-lb. weight to keep it
Stout as this shell appeared,
the man who successfully took the plunge in 1911, an interested spectator
of the preparations, gave warning that it was not adequate, and
motion-picture operators who were present to film the event endeavored to
discourage its performance. But the eager traveler was not to be deterred.
At 8:30 a.m. he entered his cask, and was towed into the river a mile
above the falls by a motorboat, which itself narrowly escaped the pull of
the treacherous current. Irrevocably in the rapids, the barrel, despite
its bottom weight, turned end over end, swept into an erratic course to
the brink, and leaped, bottom up, over the dizzy precipice.
It was 2 p.m., more than five
hours later, before the awed spectators espied, floating in the lower
river, a single stave from the vanished barrel. After careful search, a
manís shoe was found, and then fragments of clothing-nothing more. The
eddying pool behind the curtain of the falls is nearly 200 ft. deep in its
basin of jagged rock, and there is no way of discovering what its dark
hollows may hold.
William "Red" Hill Jr. had to
fill the shoes of his father in order to carry on the dramatic
multi-headlined legend that his very name demanded. Red Hill Jr. had
helped out on most of his fatherís 28 rescues, and had pulled an
additional 28 dead bodies from the river on his own. He also helped his
father in the recovery of 117 of 177 dead bodies recovered.
Red Hill Jr. twice made the strenuous and dangerous swim from the base of
the American Falls to the Canadian shore. Both of those times he failed to
equal his fatherís outstanding time of eleven minutes. In order to match
his father, Hill Jr. conquered the Great Gorge Rapids and Whirlpool in a
barrel on two separate occasions.
Red Hill Jr. made his first trip on July 8th 1945. A crowd of 200,000
people lined the banks of the Niagara River to watch. In order to prevent
the police from stopping the event, the exact time and location were not
given in advance. Hill Jr. would be using a 183 cm long, 720 pound barrel
made entirely of steel. The bright red barrel was lowered down into the
gorge just upstream of the rapids early in the morning.
Shortly after 2:00 p.m., Red Hill Jr. climbed into the barrel and set out
on his journey. He was immediately caught in the 68 km/h current and was
drawn towards the rapids. Before reaching the rapids, the barrel was
struck by a cross wave and tossed 6 metres into the air before landing
back into flowing water. As the barrel entered Whirlpool, it was caught by
its current. Red Hill's brothers, Major and Norman, rowed out and brought
the barrel to shore. Hill Jr. complained of dizziness, but, being highly
motivated, he climbed back into his barrel to complete his journey to
Upon arriving at Queenston after two and a half hours, Hill Jr. and his
mother went to Fairview Cemetery to lay a wreath on his fatherís grave.
Red Hill Jr. made his second trip through the rapids on September 6th
1948. This time Hill Jr. used a barrel weighing approximately 1000 pounds,
so he would not be tossed by the rapids again. Within five minutes of the
journey, the barrel passed through the rapids and was in the Whirlpool.
When it entered this area it spun out of control for more than an hour.
From time to time the current was strong enough that it pulled the massive
barrel underwater. Again his brother had to venture in and save Hill Jr.
He was badly bruised and stayed out of the water for another hour before
he climbed back into the barrel to complete the trip. Hill Jr. arrived at
the Queenston dock after his four and a half hour ordeal.
The dream of a memorial to Red Hill Sr. weighed heavily on the shoulders
of Red Hill Jr. It was because of this unfulfilled desire that Hill Jr.
began planning to ride over the Horseshoe Falls.
At age 38, Red Hill Jr. set his date with destiny for August 5th 1951. Due
to the lack of funds and support, Hill Jr. had to build a very cheap
barrel. Hill Jr. constructed "the Thing". It was a contraption consisting
of thirteen large heavy duty inner tubes lashed together by 8 cm wide
canvass webbing. These were then encased in heavy gauge fish netting. Hill
Jr. painted his contraption silver with the words "The Thing" inscribed
around the tube.
The tube was launched at 1:30 p.m. from Ushers Creek, which is
approximately 3.2 km upstream from the Horseshoe Falls. At 3:30 p.m. the
tube with Red Hill Jr. inside rode through the upper rapids and over The
Horseshoe Falls. The Thing was caught under the extreme pressure of the
falling water and broke apart. It was two minutes before parts of the
rubber tubes began to surface, but no sign of Red Hill Jr. The silence was
shattered by Hill Junior's mother frantic cry for him. Hill Junior's wife
and ten year old daughter joined his mother for the long vigils while his
brothers: Major, Norman & Wesley searched for his body.
The next morning the battered body of William Red Hill Jr. drifted near
the Maid of the Mist dock. The lower part of his body was badly mangled
and his forehead had a large laceration. He was buried the following
Thursday at Fairview Cemetery in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Following the death of Red Hill Jr., there was a public outcry over his
needless death. This resulted in then Ontario Premier, Leslie Frost, to
issue a special order to the directors of the Niagara Parks Commission to
arrest anyone who commits an act of stunting upon the properties of the
Niagara Parks. Since that day, no permission has been granted to allow any
stunting within the park.
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