Terrorizing the Cat and Other Stupid Ways to Celebrate Your Birthday

A few weeks ago I celebrated my 36th birthday. It was a pretty quiet affair. My husband was out of town for work about a week leading up to it so he didn’t have a lot of time for planning anything too special. He did take me out to dinner, though, and my sister baked me a cake the weekend before. And, most importantly, I got so many sweet homemade cards from my boys. It was kind of perfect actually.

Because there’s nothing particularly special about 36 (unless you’re a mathematician that geeks out about perfect squares, I suppose) and I like keeping it low-key. I guess I could have done something spectacular to mark the day like going to the casino to play roulette and wagering all the cash in my pocket (probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $5) on black, conquering my fear of public karaoke, or getting a tattoo on my back of a misspelled motivational saying.

Or I could have celebrated my birthday the way Annie Edson Taylor chose to spend her 63rd on October 24, 1901 when she became the first person ever (and yes, there have been others since)to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

English: Niagara Falls: Horseshoe Falls view. ...
Yes, THAT Niagara Falls. I can think of worse ways to celebrate a birthday, but not many. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Taylor had not had a great deal of good fortune in her lifetime. Born in 1838, she studied to be a teacher before meeting and marrying David Taylor. But marital bliss was not to be hers for long. He died shortly after the death of the couple’s infant son. The young widow set out to make a life for herself and bounced around from job to job across the country, eventually meeting up with a girlfriend with whom she traveled to Mexico City (where presumably she got a tattoo: DREAM AS IF YOU’LL LIFE FOREVER).

Whatever she really did in Mexico City, Annie did not manage to find work and so she made her way back north to Bay City, Michigan where she had once briefly run a school for dance. It was there that she realized the best way for her to gain the means to support herself in comfort was to go to Niagara Falls and literally take the plunge.

Annie Edson Taylor posing with her wooden barr...
It’s actually much more comfortable than it looks because she took her lucky pillow with her. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Taylor got herself an agent and had a special barrel built. Then she did what any reasonable person would do. A couple of days before the planned stunt, she stuffed a cat into the barrel and sent it over the falls. The cat survived the trip with only a cut on its head (and an intense fear of being stuffed into a barrel) to show for it.

See? No harm done. Oh that? This cat’s always been a little unsteady on her feet. Or maybe she’s just drunk? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apparently that was a good enough result for Taylor so two days later she celebrated her 63rd birthday by allowing herself to be stuffed into the cushioned barrel along with an extra pillow (you know, to make it comfortable).

The stunt itself took about twenty minutes, though reports say it took a little while to get the barrel open (during which time, I think it’s safe to assume, Taylor developed an intense fear of being stuffed into a barrel). When it was finally opened, Taylor climbed out unharmed except for a minor gash on her head.

Of her experience, Mrs. Taylor had this to say:

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.

American stunt pilot Art Smith preparing to be...
Also not a good way to celebrate your birthday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sadly, the whole fame and fortune plan didn’t work out all that well for the daredevil. It turns out her agent was a crook and Taylor died poor at the age of 82. Still, I would be lying if I said a (very small) part of me didn’t admire Annie Taylor’s pluck.

In fact, she has inspired me. Maybe, just maybe on my 63rd birthday, I will get myself a tattoo. I’m thinking: “DON’T GO CHASING WATERFLAWS.


17 thoughts on “Terrorizing the Cat and Other Stupid Ways to Celebrate Your Birthday

  1. I’m appalled the agent could do such a disgusting thing. I wonder what happened to him? Or…could the bit about the cannon allude to his fate? 😀 Thanks for this post and giving me a chuckle this morning.

    1. I don’t know what happened to him. None of the information I read even listed his name so I haven’t been able to follow up on that tidbit. The only information I found was that she lost most of the money she made from the stunt and the resulting media hype to legal battles with the agent. I’m sure the details could be tracked down, but I don’t think I want to do it. I rather like the image of the agent being fired out of a cannon.

  2. Interesting blog. I went to Niagara Falls along time ago with my wife. On the trip up on a deserted road with light snow a deer crossed the path of the car. It was grand. Just like the falls themselves.

  3. Having visited Niagara a couple of times, I’m amazed at her daring. It’s a long way down! And yes, I agree that she should serve as inspiration to not waste our lives. As the saying goes, “Enjoy life. This is not a dress rehearsal.”

  4. Brieuse Bernhard Piers-Gûdmönd

    Anyone who does that to a cat deserves to be put in a barrel and tossed over a waterfall! A great bit of history – thanks.

    1. I found it kind of amusing that she received the same injury the cat did and I was relieved to know that the animal walked away relatively unharmed. Not everyone (or every animal) who has gone over the falls has been so fortunate.

  5. Agents – are they really necessary? Or should they all take that plunge? Niagara Falls now has been so diverted that it is a fraction of the amount of water than it was. Can you imagine?
    Sarah – you are so funny.

    1. I admit I don’t know much about the daredevil industry and so feel ill prepared to comment on the necessity for an agent when planning to descend Niagara Falls in a barrel. I have, however, met a few agents in other industries that I wouldn’t mind seeing take the plunge 😉

  6. I have heard about her story before, but not the part about the cat. I still ponder whether she had some level of mental illness to decide to try the stunt! You would have too! Too bad the agent was a crook.

    Happy Birthday – I love the low key ones. Although mine this year was a bit too low key – my husband was sick.

    1. Actually I think the cat test might be indicative of a healthy sense of fear, not that I would ever put an animal inside of a barrel and push it over Niagara Falls. Or get into a barrel and go over the falls myself. Maybe you’re on to something.

      I’m sorry your birthday was a bummer. I hope he did something special for you later.

  7. Pingback: Six Hundred Feet of Hyperbole | thepracticalhistorian

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