Growing up just outside of Bay City Michigan I had a different take on heros. For example our school was full-bore behind Dr. Sam Mudd and we knew all about Annie Taylor, who in 1901 was the first person to shoot Niagara Falls. For notoriety, she ranked right up there with Dr. Mudd who was the inspiration for the phrase “your name is Mudd” by having the distinction of treating John Wilkes Booth.
As a teen I remember going through the Niagara Falls Museum and seeing the barrel (likely a fake) which she used to conquer Horseshoe Falls. I think it was just around the corner from the two-headed cow and next to the Cigar Store Indian. At the time Annie accomplished the feat she was 63 years old, a school teacher who had tried her hand as a dance instructor. Her goal was to become rich from the publicity of being the first person to go over the Falls. Stuffing the oaken barrel with pillows and a mattress Annie climbed in, the barrel was sealed and she was set adrift.
Upon being set free from the barrel she “cautioned anyone against attempting the feat.” As was to be expected her manager absconded with the little money she earned from her speeches, taking the barrel with him . Annie Taylor and her story were turned into an an epic poem, “Queen of the Mist” by Joan Murray. That and a musical “Queen” of the Mist” was about it for old Annie.
Now Caldecott award-winning illustrator Chris Van Allsburg a native of Grand Rapids Michigan and a graduate of the University of Michigan has created the children’s picture book, “Queen of the Falls”, that tells the story of Annie Taylor and her devil-may- care attitude. From early reviews on the book it apparently tells the frank and often sad story of Annie’s life. When her plans to become rich fall apart Annie takes to posing for photographs with a barrel to make ends meet.
Van Allsburg who is best known for his book “The Polar Express” which has a significant Michigan connection has now found another Michigan relationship that tells the brave, but foolish story of a woman who could not be held back. Van Allsburg talks about his new book in this video.