“Niagara Falls is a most enjoyable place of resort. The hotels are excellent and the prices not at all exorbitant.”
This observation was made by the famous American author and humorist Mark Twain in an article of his entitled “Niagara.” Originally appearing in the Buffalo Express, it was one of a number of Twain’s essays published in 1875 in book form under the title Sketches Old and New.
The creator of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and many other memorable characters, Twain probably visited Niagara Falls a number of times. From February 1870 to October 1871 he lived in nearby Buffalo where he was an editor and part owner of the Express.
An astute observer with a well-developed wit, Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, offered a number of comments about various aspects of his Niagara experience. For example, he mentions climbing down a 148-foot staircase to stand by the edge of the river and then observes, “after you have done it, you will wonder why you did it; but you will then be too late.”
After paying an admission fee, he listened to a guide relate, “in his blood-curdling way,” how he saw the Maid of the Mist piloted downriver through the Whirlpool Rapids to Queenston on June 6, 1861. Twain noted “She did finally live through the trip after accomplishing the incredible feat of traveling seventeen miles in six minutes or six miles in seventeen minutes, I have really forgotten which.” (If I may be permitted, Mr. Twain, it was the latter -SZ)
Twain felt it was “worth the price of admission to hear the guide tell the story nine times in succession to different parties and never miss a word or alter a sentence or gesture”.
He crossed over the Suspension Bridge to view the Falls from the Canadian side. The bridge, an engineering marvel of the time, stood where the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge is now located. It was a double-deck span with trains using the upper level, while the lower deck was for carriages and pedestrians.
Twain found (or pretended to find) the crossing to be disconcerting, writing, “You drive over the Suspension Bridge and divide your misery between the chances of smashing down 200 feet into the river below, and the chances of having the railway train overhead smashing down on you. Either possibility is discomforting taken by itself, but mixed together, they amount in the aggregate to positive unhappiness.”
As his carriage approached the Horseshoe Falls, which he describes as “stupendous,” Twain was surprised and somewhat upset to find “long ranks of photographers standing guard behind their cameras.”
Back on the American side, he took the Cave of the Winds trip – a popular experience with visitors still today. As he crept along the footbridges built over the rocks near the foot of the American Falls, Twain was awed by the “monstrous wall of water thundering down from above…I raised my head with open mouth and most of the American cataract went down my throat.”
After he dries out, Twain’s amazing imagination and sense of fun really takes off. He relates how he stopped to talk to a group of men who turn out to be ruffians. They “whack” him a number of times, tear off his clothes and then pitch him into the Niagara River. He goes over the Falls. Eventually pulled out, he’s then arrested “for disturbing the peace by yelling at people on shore for help.” The judge fines him but Twain has no money since it was in his now lost pants. A doctor’s examination determines that “only sixteen of my wounds are fatal. I don’t mind the others.”
A few years later Twain (now recovered!) brings Niagara Falls into a short story he authored entitled “Extracts From Adam’s Diary.” Based on the Bible’s Book of Genesis, it’s a humourous account, written in diary form, of how Adam met various challenges in what he has named the Garden of Eden.
His first major surprise is a “new creature” with “long hair” that suddenly appears and, to his annoyance, starts following him around. Equally disturbing, this “new creature” who he refers to as “It,” begins naming “everything that comes along before I can get in a protest.” This includes the garden’s great waterfall, which It names Niagara Falls.
It also objects to the name Garden of Eden, claiming that the area “looks more like a park than a garden.” “As a result,” Adam sadly says, “without consulting me, the garden has been renamed Niagara Falls Park. This was sufficiently high-handed, it seems to me. And already there is a sign up saying “Keep Off The Grass.”
Eventually the new creature tells Adam her name is Eve and asks that he refer to her by that name or “she” or “her,” but not It.
Eve then makes a request. We’ll let Adam pick up the story: “She has taken to beseeching me to stop going over the Falls. What harm does it do? Says it makes her shudder. I wonder why; I have always done it – always liked the plunge and the excitement and the coolness. I supposed it was what the Falls were for. They have no other use that I can see and they must have been made for something. She says they were only made for scenery – like the rhinoceros and the mastodon.
“I went over the Falls in a barrel – not satisfactory to her. Went over in a tub – still not satisfactory. Swam the Whirlpool and the Rapids in a fig-leaf suit. It got much damaged. Hence, tedious complaints about my extravagance.”
As in the Biblical story, Adam and Eve are eventually banished from the Garden of Eden or, as Eve calls it, the Niagara Falls Park.
Nevertheless, Adam eventually confesses he was mistaken about Eve when he first met her. He has come to love her and now admires “the goodness of her heart and the sweetness of her spirit,” an agreeable note to end a Niagara tale like no other.