By Louise Gagne
Once you have seen Niagara Falls, I can bet you haven’t had enough of it. Postcards are nice, but books and movies can keep the memory alive through the imaginary and visual setting of Niagara Falls.
Through a combination of my love for this locale, and doing research for a book that I have written, I have immersed myself in reading books and viewing films with a similar theme: Niagara.
Although they are all worthy in and of themselves, here is a countdown of the ones I have enjoyed.
The Falls (Eric Walters) – A young-adult drama set in blue-collar Niagara Falls, complete with a combination of alcoholism, growing pains, and daredevil history. A tell-it-like-it-is book accurately set amongst the tourist traps, with Niagara in the back drop.
The Falls (Joyce Carol Oates) – A novel set in Niagara Falls, spanning several decades, that follows a newlywed bride whose husband commits suicide on their wedding night while honeymooning in Niagara Falls. Love Canal, as well as a family legacy, bind the story throughout and shed a darker view complete with sludge, chemical fumes, and disappointment.
Spirits and Death in Niagara (Marcy Italiano) – A supernatural view of the spirits that haunt Niagara and its outskirts. It takes one on a virtual tour of many of the historic sites and landmarks up to Niagara-on-the-Lake. The “death” section speaks of suicides, accidents, and daredevils, including macabre descriptions of those found after the plunge.
The Day the Falls Stood Still (Catherine Marie Buchanan) – An enchanted historical novel about prim and proper Bess, who defies her mother and marries a Niagara riverman who pulls floaters out of the gorge. The description of everyday life, from the clothing to the trolley train, recreates the imagery and feel of a bygone Niagara.
The Odds (Ian Stewart) – A modern-day story of a couple whose marriage is on the rocks. They take a final trip to their honeymoon place —Niagara Falls— as a final attempt at rekindling their union. It has everything a tourist would want: attractions, casino gambling, and Heart in concert! I enjoyed this book as it took me along for the ride of the many sights, sounds, and smells of Niagara.
Niagara: A History of the Falls (Pierre Berton) – A reference disguised with great storytelling that educates the reader about the history of the Falls from its first discovery by European missionaries in 1678. The film follows a timeline of great events relating to the Falls, including daredevils, hydroelectricity, architects, and other memorable events. You’ll be an expert after reading this book.
Queen of the Mist (Joan Murray) – A heartbreaking prose about Annie Edson Taylor “Niagara’s Forgotten Heroine,” who was the first person to go over the Falls in a barrel and survive. Worthy enough that I read it twice. Walk in her shoes to know how it felt to be a desperate woman in 1901.
Too Close to the Falls (Catherine Gildiner) – My number one choice of the Niagara books I’ve read. This work relates part one of Catherine Gildiner’s memoir of working since age four at her father’s Lewiston pharmacy. Covers everything from tobogganing down the gorge, going to a nearby Indian reservation, meeting Marilyn Monroe via a prescription delivery… and that’s just for starters! Relates life as only nonfiction can about the Niagara region in the 1950s onward. Belly laughs galore and this haunting quote: “My mother never punished me. She let the rest of the world do that.”
After the Falls – If you want more, there’s part two of Catherine Gildiner’s memoir which continues as she moves to Buffalo in the psychedelic 1960s. Never a dull moment.
So there you have it. As each trip to Niagara is different, so are the many literary flavours about this locale. If it’s a book on Niagara, you can be sure that the following will be mentioned: suicide, rainbows, the mist and the thunderous roar.
Niagara Motel (2006) – Broken dreams are retold in an offbeat Niagara motel/restaurant. The film focuses more on relationships than Niagara itself. Not what I expected, but neither are some of Niagara’s motels I’ve stayed in!
Superman II (1980) – A movie which uses Niagara as a set locale in this sequel starring Christopher Reeves. Enjoy watching Superman save a child who plummets into the Falls at Table Rock, as well as spectacular shots of the rapids where Lois Lane purposely falls into in this tourist spot, baiting Clark Kent (whom she believes to be Superman) to save her.
Camille (2008) – Starring James Franco, a newlywed couple set their sites on Niagara for their honeymoon — with an unexpected twist. Although most of the film focuses on countryside getting to Niagara, a great climax with awesome shots of the Falls in the final scene is the payoff.
Niagara Niagara (1999) – Two young adults, one with Tourette’s Syndrome and the other disillusioned, engage in a road trip to Niagara Falls. Another movie set mostly on the journey there and a small segment set at the brink of the Falls. Poignant.
Canadian Bacon (1995). With Alan Alda as President and John Candy as sheriff of Niagara Falls County, one can imagine the slapstick about the U.S. carrying out a cold war on “polite” Canada, which starts out with a brawl at a hockey game over Canadian beer. Contains scenes of the Falls, along with power plants and boating on the Niagara River.
Niagara (1953) – Classic film starring Marilyn Monroe. What can I say? Two natural beauties converge in a stellar combination. A wondrous film that whisks one away to when Marilyn, in the flesh, explored the surroundings of Niagara from the stone motel, to the Cave of the Winds, to the Rainbow Bridge Tower that houses a carillon that chimes. Very thrilling ending!
Interestingly, I’ve noticed that films set in Niagara will always climax with shots of the brink of the Falls. I’ve just tapped a few books and movies, but there are many more out there to explore at your local library, video store, or online database.
So you can bet your last souvenir that there will always be books and movies written about and set in Niagara, for its vast presence will always permeate the human psyche and intrigue future generations to create literary and motion picture works on the subject.