Martha E. Wagenfuhrer was a young woman from Buffalo, New York, who thought that by being the first woman to ride the rapids of the Niagara Gorge she would find fame and glory.
Martha had grand marketing ideas. She planned her trip for Saturday, September 6th, 1901. She had chosen the date carefully as this was the day that a scheduled visit was planned for President William McKinley.
He would be visiting the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York and had planned on visiting Niagara Falls on that Saturday. As fate would have it an assassin’s bullet would put an end to the hopes of being witnessed by the President.
Martha began her journey on the afternoon of September 6th, but before her barrel could be set afloat it sustained damage when it accidentally rolled down the bank of the river. Martha refused to go ahead with her stunt until the barrel was repaired and later that day, slightly before 6 p.m. Martha was helped inside her barrel.
Unfortunately for Martha her barrel was caught in the Whirlpool Rapids for over an hour. With darkness setting in it became necessary for the Great Gorge Railway Illumination Car to be brought to the Whirlpool so its search light could illuminate the surface of the river. When it was possible to finally retrieve the barrel Martha was found unconscious inside and barely breathing. It took over ten minutes to revive the woman.