Bobby Leach

Title: Bobby Leach and his Barrel after his perilous trip over Niagara Falls July 25th, 1911 - Description: Image of Bobby Leach sat infront of a back-drop of the Niagara Falls cataract. He is sat on top of his barrel which has a large dent on the top. The image is sepia toned and Bobby Leach is wearing a white shirt, bow tie and couriers cap.

The database entry for the above postcard.

After successfully going over the Horseshoe Falls in a barrel on October 24, 1901, Annie Taylor, the first person to try such a stunt, reportedly said, "Nobody ought to ever do that again!"

For ten years nobody did.

Then along came Bobby Leach. A native of Cornwall, England, he was a daredevil full of bravado and bravery who first stepped into the spotlight in Niagara Falls in 1906 when he parachuted into the Niagara River after jumping off the Upper Steel Arch Bridge, which was close to where the Rainbow Bridge is now.

Leach's ultimate goal, however, was to become the second person, and the first man, to go over the Horseshoe Falls in a barrel. After many delays, frustrations and considerable expense, he was ready.

It was Tuesday, July 25th, 1911.

Using a cylindrical steel barrel with wooden bumpers at each end, Leach, strapped in a tight harness, was cut adrift at the mouth of Chippawa Creek. It was 2:55 p.m.

A widely publicized event, many people had gathered at Table Rock and along the upper bank of the gorge to see if the 54-year-old Leach would actually make the attempt, and, if he did, what the outcome would be.

At about three o'clock a speeding car arrived at Table Rock from Chippawa, with the driver breathlessly announcing that Leach was on his way. In the meantime, the stunter was racing downriver. When his barrel was opposite the Toronto Power House, it struck a large rock, tearing off the front bumper. The impact was so severe, Leach received, as it was later determined, a large gash on his forehead.

Rushing on, the barrel then made a beeline for the Horseshoe Falls, slipping over the brink at just about the centre. It was 3:13.

Standing with the crowd at Table Rock, a Niagara Falls Ontario. Daily Record reporter described the moment: "As the barrel approached the brink, the multitude of voices hushed, as if by magic, and the silence was intense as the fearful plunge was made. Not a sound was heard except for the roar of the cataract until 'there he is' was shouted by dozens of voices as the barrel reappeared in the seething, bubbling waters below, some little distance below the falls.

The next question naturally was 'Does Leach still live'?"

It was some time before that question could be answered. Just after Leach's barrel swept past the Ontario Power Plant (located right beside the river, this building still stands but is no longer in use), it was caught in an eddy and swirled around and around for some 20 minutes.

Finally, Fred Bender, who worked for the Ontario Power Co., handed one end of a rope to a group of his fellow employees while tying the other end around his waist. He then jumped into the water, fully clothed, and swam out to the barrel. After grabbing it his cohorts pulled Bender and the barrel ashore.

Harry Williams, the popular proprietor of the Lafayette Hotel on River Road, then hammered on the side of the barrel. From within his steel cocoon. Leach hammered back. A Daily Record reporter wrote about what happened next: "Those around the barrel took off their hats and let forth a mighty cheer which was immediately answered by one of greater volume from the masses assembled above when they understood Bobby was alive."

When extracted from his barrel. Leach was found to have, along with the gash on his forehead, badly bruised (some accounts say "broken") kneecaps and a cut on his right ear.

Obviously in pain, he asked for and received some oxygen, which revived him considerably. He then requested a cigar - which presumably he didn't light until the oxygen had been safely removed.

In the years that followed. Leach, his wife and his barrel toured many parts of the world.

His death, 15 years after his famous plunge, was sadly ironic. While walking down a street in Auckland, New Zealand, he slipped on an orange peel, fell down and broke his leg. Infection set in and the leg had to be amputated. Bobby Leach died while in surgery and was buried in Auckland's Hillsboro Cemetery. His gravestone reads: "In loving memory of Bobby Leach, world famous by his trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Died 28th April, 1926 aged 69 years. R.I.P."

Sherman Zavitz

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