Released in October 1956, the episode “Niagara Fools” or “Vamos à Cataratas”, in Portuguese, eventually became synonymous with the cartoon Pica-Pau. In the storyline of the episode, our dear pic is touring Niagara Falls, when a park ranger begins to brag about never letting a madman take down the waterfalls in a barrel. Obviously, the Mad Bird decides to end the poor guy’s job in peace and quiet and starts chopping down barrels. However, as you can imagine, the warden goes to great lengths to stop it and ends up descending the falls in several barrels throughout the day. Further down at one of the lookouts, a loyal audience dressed in yellow raincoats gather to watch and celebrate each new barrel that rolls down the sewers.
The episode has become so iconic in Brazil that it suffices for someone to say “aeee” next to someone falling, and the brain immediately refers to the poor guard coming down the falls. In 2017, during the live action film’s promotional tour, he took the Universal Pica-Pau publicity team to the Iguaçu Falls, in southern Brazil, where he recreated the agglomeration with people in raincoats at one of the viewpoints in the park. The action was a success and had international repercussions.
However, this episode, as funny as it is, is based on actual activity that was very common in the early part of the 20th century. Yes, as insane as it sounds, some people did make it to Niagara, where they descended in common barrels or reinforced barrels, specially designed to ensure the safety of future pilots. The pioneer of this feat was Annie Edson Taylor, a retired American teacher who on her 63rd birthday, October 24, 1901, decided to venture down the falls in a modified barrel of brine. Turns out she didn’t do it just for a frightening lack of lifelong love. In fact, she was broke and couldn’t count on her husband, who had died years earlier during the Civil War to help her. With the bills coming due, she discovered that some people were getting sponsorships and making a lot of money from the public by boating near the waterfalls. As she wanted to live well and without worrying about the next day, she called the press so that her achievement would be duly recorded and publicized. In this way, she teamed up with two friends and modified a common barrel, placing pieces of leather inside and sealing any holes or openings that would allow her to choke.
To see if the plan would work, she placed a kitten inside the barrel and threw it overboard. To the surprise of many, the cat survived. So, according to the logic of the time, if the cat didn’t die, the old woman would survive too. With extensive media coverage, she launched into the waters of Niagara with a 45kg anvil to balance her weight, a good luck pillow, and brought it down. His gun was rescued 17 minutes after the fall was consumed. And as she had expected, she walked away safely, completely disheveled, but fine. Not to say that she was unharmed, she suffered a slight cut to the head. During the fall, hundreds of reporters and spectators photographed and wrote stories about the incredible feat of “Niagara Falls Hero”. Sadly, much to her disappointment, the show didn’t make the money it expected and it turned out that it didn’t get rich, but simply made history as one. of the biggest madmen in history.
Throughout history, 17 people have attempted to descend Niagara Falls in a barrel, in balls or with nothing on their bodies. There have been 11 successful cases – some of which ended in terrible fractures and bruises and five tragic deaths – including one from suffocation, with George Stathakis’ barrel stuck behind the waterfall for 18 hours and it ran out of air. in 1930.
George went downstairs with his pet turtle. He died, but the little turtle survived.
There was also the case of a double that jumped twice. On the first descent in 2003, Kirk Jones jumped with only the clothes on his back and survived. This earned him the title of “World’s Greatest Stuntman” and a lot of money from lectures about his achievements. 14 years later, in 2017, he decided to repeat the feat, but now he would go inside an inflatable balloon, like a giant hamster. It didn’t work and he was found 19 km from the waterfalls, lifeless. He was the last person to visit Niagara Falls.
Kirk shocked the world by surviving in 2003, jumping with only the clothes he was wearing. In 2017, he would try to repeat the feat, but would not resist the fall.
Niagara National Park decided to more vigorously enforce and officially ban these monsters from descending into barrels in 1951, after the death of William Red Hill Jr., who attempted to descend into a wrapped, homemade barrel. in a fishing net, caused national unrest. The number of guards has increased and cameras have been installed on the shores to prevent new distraught adventurers from venturing into the area. And anyone caught going downhill, if they survived, would have to pay a fine of the equivalent of $ 100.
Currently, anyone caught trying to descend or encourage the descent of the falls will have to pay a fine starting from US $ 10,000, just over R $ 50,000 at the current rate. In addition to a sentence of up to six months in prison. That is, unless you are a woodpecker, who is not subject to the 25% chance of dying from a fall, going down falls into a barrel is not a good deal for anyone. .
The episode is inspired by Annie’s story, but includes several references to other lunatics who attempted to descend the Falls, such as a “make your own homemade barrel” kit, referencing Hill Jr., who caused the decision to be banned. In November 2020, on Pica-Pau’s official YouTube channel, Universal made a remake of the episode, which now takes place at Iguaçu Falls, Brazil.
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