I am always interested in what people collect or what interests them. I just saw a picture of a man who collects Mrs. Beasley dolls. You know, that bespeckled doll that the little girl on the tv show, Family Affair, carried around with her. Another man has more than 1,000 sock monkeys. I collect everything from Pez to antique letter openers and swizzle sticks, duck decoys to black Americana. But, besides collections, I admire what people are interested in. For example, some people are interested in the Civil War, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis, or even rocks.
When I was little, I was fascinated by Niagara Falls. We visited the falls on the way to hang out in a cabin in Canada while my dad fished. I was mesmerized by the water tumbling over the falls and just stood there staring at its wonder for a very long time. It was just too cool. I am sure the area looks different than it did in the early sixties. I haven’t been there in years. But, when I was little, I vowed to learn as much as I could. When I got back home, I was going to become an expert on Niagara Falls.
My parents bought me a book about the history of the falls when we were leaving. I sort of remember picking up several books and walking them over to my parents. I wanted every book I saw. I think they were excited that something was going to settle me down for a bit. I guess being a hyperactive child does wear one down a bit. I guess that’s why my name was Cricket when I was little. But, I had to wait until I got back to West Virginia to read the book, since I had severe motion sickness and had my hand out of the window most of the time. That would have made turning the pages a bit hard.
I still remember some of the names that I read about. Daredevils. A guy by the name of Red Hill for one. There was also a guy by the name of Bobby Leach. It amazes me that at times I can’t remember why I walked into a room, but I can remember random names from my youth. Go figure. But, this fascinated me. I couldn’t believe that people would put themselves in a wooden barrel and go over the falls. Bobby Leach’s story is fascinating. He was an English circus performer who went over the falls in an eight foot steel barrel. The barrel got stuck in a whirlpool at the base of the falls for 20 minutes until he was rescued. He lived, but broke his jaw and both of his knee caps. He came back and did some crazy parachuting from a plane in the falls and other dare devil activities. What was sad, yet amusing, was the fact that when he was 70, he slipped on an orange peel and died of his injuries. Poor Bobby Leach. But, I always remembered his name and his story.
The picture of the woman below was a 63 year old schoolteacher who went over the falls and survived. I immediately did not like her because she had sent a cat over the falls in her barrel to see if it would survive before she took the plunge, literally. The cat lived. How horrible. I can not imagine putting a cat in a barrel and pushing it over Niagara Falls. I’m glad I wasn’t in her classroom.
But, back to the books. I would stare at the photographs and read the pages over and over. My mom would take me to the Mary E. Weir Public Library to look more information about Niagara Falls. We didn’t have the internet back then. I had a library, newspaper, books, and general information in our World Book Encyclopedia. I believe I was in fourth grade at the time. And like I said, I was going to become an expert on Niagara Falls. For sure.
So, for the rest of the summer, I read everything I could get my hands on about Niagara Falls. I asked a lot of questions about how Canada managed to be so close to the falls. Why would the countries split it in half? I really didn’t mind. I thought it was cool to cross over into Canada. I just thought that someone should have both. We had to hear tour guides tell people, “You are now looking at the American Falls.” “And these are the Canadian Falls.” Of course, I thought we got a bad deal, as we had piles of rocks at the bottom of ours, while the Canadian Falls had a horseshoe shape and a romantic appeal.
I did read much later that two thirds of the Canadian Falls actually lie within the U.S. territory. Or it used to.
There were newly married people there left and right. I told my parents I was going to come to Niagara Falls after I got married and I was going to live there. They laughed at me, which pissed me off. I think I pouted for a while in the backseat.
Well, needless to say, I never became an expert on Niagara Falls. I think chinese jump rope and then Davey Jones and the Monkees got in the way for a while, and then I forgot all about Bobby Leach and the cat killer schoolteacher and the beauty of the falls. Until this week. I was teaching about French explorers in my fourth grade class during Social Studies class and talked about how wild it was for the explorers, traveling on water that they had never been on before. I then drew a couple of canoes going over a waterfall because that’s how I roll, and I mentioned Niagara Falls. And it brought back a flood of memories about that whole summer.
So, after I told my class that I was an expert on Niagara Falls, I preceded to tell them everything I knew about Niagara Falls. Which really wasn’t a lot. They enjoyed my rendition of people going over the falls in a barrel, and how some even did a tight rope walk over the falls. I think the class thought I was pulling their leg because I tend to add fiction and opinion to a lot of my history lessons. But, at the end of the class, I think some of them wanted to become experts on Niagara Falls.
That’s such a lie. But, hey, they are the age I was when I wanted to learn about the great falls.
And they have the internet to widen that horizon.