Rose Edson and Elsie Edson White grew up hearing about their family ties to Annie Edson Taylor, the first person to ride a barrel over the Horseshoe Falls.
And on Wednesday, the two sisters rode the Maid of the Mist, 111 years to the day after their great-grand-aunt took the historic plunge.
As Edson positioned herself directly at the bow of the boat while it aimed into the Horseshoe, engines churning at full power to keep it stable, the Toledo, Ohio, woman had one question: “What was she thinking?"
White, of Webster, Texas, had similar thoughts.
“I was wondering what she was thinking when she saw all that water. It’s wonderful and amazing, and she was pretty brave,” White said.
White, 67, and Edson, 69, are just a few years older than Taylor was when she took the plunge on her 63rd birthday, though she shaved a good 20 years off her age in her persistently fanciful retelling of her life story. The great-grand-nieces, whose great-grandfather was Taylor’s brother, visited Niagara Falls for events surrounding the anniversary of Taylor’s plunge.
They were accompanied on the trip by Michelle Kratts, who is on the board of directors of Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls, where Taylor is buried, and Teresa Lasher Winslow, who founded a group called “The Remaining Friends of Annie Taylor” in 1980. The group formed after officials of Bay City, Mich., where Taylor briefly lived, expressed an interest in having her body moved there.
“The people at Oakwood Cemetery have so much energy for Annie and for the other stunters buried at the cemetery,” White said.
“I’m very proud of her,” Edson said of Taylor. “I think she was a marvelous woman to do those things at a time when women didn’t do things like that.”
Though the sisters visited Niagara Falls often as children because of the family connection, they had never been on the Maid of the Mist until Wednesday, which coincidentally was the last day the boat tours run for the season. Scheduling the last trips for Oct. 24, which happens to be the anniversary of Taylor’s plunge and her birthday, gives the tour company a week to take its boats and docks out of the water before major water diversion significantly lowers the level of the water, said manager Andrew Messer.
Taylor’s relatives were greeted with smiles and handshakes by Maid staffers, who ushered them onto the boat.
“It’s fantastic, an honor, really,” Messer said of having the women on the boat.
Messer said information about the daredevils continues to fascinate visitors to the falls.
“A lot of people ask questions about the stunters,” he said. “They love that history. They want to know where the barrels went over, and where the cable was” when Nik Wallenda crossed near the Horseshoe Falls in June.
After meeting Edson and White, tour guide Robert Lizardo launched into a memorized narrative about the stunters.
“If you look at what she did, she wasn’t prepared like the newer ones,” he said.
Visitors Dave and Phyllis Heaton of Sturgess, S.D., stood next to the sisters on the boat and were told of Edson’s stunt.
“Are you going to try to replicate that?” Heaton asked.
The sisters only smiled.
Winslow first contacted the family after learning of the plan by Bay City officials, who mistakenly believed that Taylor was buried in a pauper’s grave, to have her body exhumed and reinterred in Michigan. Though Taylor did die penniless in the Niagara County Infirmary in 1921, friends and supporters chipped in to buy her a grave in a part of Oakwood known as Stunters Rest and, later, a handsome headstone.
Edson and White’s father, Annie Taylor’s grand-nephew, stepped forward as a representative of the family and rejected the move by Bay City. He lived to be 96.
“They were very strong people, those Edsons,” White said. “They still are.”
Before riding the Maid of the Mist, the sisters, Kratts and Winslow, who was in costume as Taylor, visited Catholic Academy to hand out prizes to students who won a contest to draw Taylor.
“The little girls love Annie,” Kratts said.
The sisters plan to return to Niagara Falls next year for a larger celebration of what would have been Taylor’s 175th birthday.