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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”