In 1969, engineers managed to accomplish a nearly impossible feat. They managed to drain Niagara Falls. That’s right. Not only did they manage to stem the flow of the falls, but they also managed to dry up all of the water – something that hadn’t been done in over a thousand years. But instead of celebrating the accomplishment of this brilliant achievement, people turned away from the sight that greeted them because it was not a pretty sight.
People were shocked and became sick to the stomach to notice that there were tons and tons of dead bodies in the place where the water once was. It’s safe to say that this was definitely not what they were expecting to see at one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
When we think of Niagara Falls, we inevitably think of the mighty rush of running waters, the sound of the falls hitting the rocks below, and of course, the most magnificent sight that Mother Nature has deigned to bestow upon us.
This is the reason that millions flock to the falls every year. But this was a far cry from what greeted those people four decades ago when the falls dried up to a trickle.
On that fateful day in 1969, man achieved an engineering milestone. More importantly, the man won a victory over the power that is Mother Nature in the form of Niagara Falls.
While this would typically call for a moment of celebration, people were instead met with something spooky underneath all of the waters. What exactly was the discovery that made people’s stomachs churn?
We all have heard of Niagara Falls, but do you know how this beauty was formed in the first place? It was 18,000 years ago when the icy cascade over North America began to melt and sent a rush of water flowing into Niagara Falls.
It took some time for the cliffs to erode, but the falls continued to chip away at the soil and finally gave us the legendary falls that we know of today.
Niagara Falls lies on the border between Canada and North America and is recognized as one of the world’s most famous landmarks. It is unsure of who the first people to marvel at this beauty were.
However, it is most likely that the indigenous people of North America were just as fascinated by this spectacle as we are today.
French explorer Samuel de Champlain first heard of a vast waterfall somewhere around the 17th Century. Of course, the falls remained undiscovered until the European expeditions.
Father Louis Hennepin was on an expedition to New France and chanced upon this natural wonder in 1678.
Soon after discovering this spectacle, Hennepin lost no time in describing his miraculous find in the journal, “A New Discovery.” This is where the name “Niagara” came to be attached to the waterfalls.
The name is thought to have been derived from the Iroquoian word “onguiaahra” which means “the strait.” There was no looking back after this!
With the invention of the railways in the 1800s, Niagara Falls quickly turned into a popular tourist spot for several people. Hotels and other amenities were built around these falls to cater to these tourists who visited.
There are no guesses as to who formed the majority of the people that began visiting the falls. It was honeymooning couples, of course!
With progress and development occurring worldwide by the 19th Century, industrialists realized the immense power that the falls stored within it.
Therefore, it was not long after that the falls’ mighty rush was used to power mills and factories. 1895 marked the year that a significant hydroelectric station was opened near Niagara Falls.
When the hydroelectric station was set up, its power was minimal, i.e., it could only carry electric power for a length of 300 feet. The genius Nikolas Tesla, however, changed things for Niagara Falls.
By using alternating current, Tesla increased the length of the supply to Buffalo, which was 20 miles away in New York.
The alternate current induction motor invented by Tesla is one of the primary forms of supplying electricity worldwide, even today.
Did you know that it was at Niagara Falls that the first set of experiments were made with the alternate current induction motors? The hydroelectric plants at the falls now harness a massive amount of electricity, of up to 2.4 million kilowatts of power.
Nestled in between the borders of two great nations, North America and Canada, this marvelous beauty of nature is now a host to over 30 million tourists every year.
The peak tourist time is when Niagara Falls are packed with crowds, but the falls are a sight to behold during this time. Tourists watch the falls cascade down at the rate of six million cubic feet every minute.
Niagara Falls takes on a different appearance in the night when there are no tourists. The water that falls happens to decrease significantly when the moon comes out, which is why a treaty was drawn up in 1950.
The treaty allowed companies to draw more water from Niagara Falls at night. However, this is not the only time that Niagara Falls has seen a decrease in its volume.
Over the years, the Falls actually began to freeze in certain places due to freezing temperatures. This even happened very recently in 2019 as well.
Experts say that the water flow is unceasing, which means that even if the falls appear frozen, the water underneath continues to flow over the edge of the cataract. The temperatures, however, cause the water to turn into vapor before reaching the basin below.
Contrary to popular belief, Niagara Falls is actually comprised of three different waterfalls. Yes, it’s so huge that it needs three waterfalls to complete it!
The three waterfalls that make up this gigantic nature’s beauty are the Horseshoe Falls, which lie on the border between Canada and the USA, along with the Bridal Veil Falls and the American Falls, both of which lie in the USA alone.
People around the world began to worry that Niagara Falls was beginning to lose its charm. This was somewhere around 1965 when a rock named Talus began to build up at the cascading falls base.
The Talus seemed to affect the aesthetics of the iconic falls, as it did not allow the water to fall in a sheer descending drop.
January 31st, 1965, was when the issue of Talus was first brought to public attention in the newspaper, “The Niagara Falls Gazette.”
In this issue, Cliff Spieler, a local journalist, highlighted that persistent erosion might well chip away the whole of the waterfalls with time. The article was aimed at the government to pressurize it into action.
The International Joint Commission is the body that looks after the regulation of shared water bodies. This is the body, therefore, that both the Americans and the Canadians looked towards.
The Commission hired experts to get down to the root of the problem, but a temporary solution was soon found.
November 13th, 1966 is when a plan that was hatched by the authorities was put into action. To detect the water flow over the American Falls, the International Water Control Dam was forced into overdrive.
The gates of the dam were coerced open, and the current went rushing in. The hydroelectric stations were also filled to full capacity.
All of this did bring the flow of the water in Niagara Falls down significantly, i.e., from 60,000 gallons per second to just 15,000 gallons per second. Debris was then duly cleared out.
The river bed that eventually got exposed was examined by officials from the US Army Corps of Engineers, or the USACE, who were merely laying the groundwork.
Like we said, this was just a temporary solution that the officials figured out. This short-term plan helped USACE in clicking some aerial photographs of the river bed, after which Niagara Falls returned to normal in a matter of 6 hours.
This temporary solution’s critical aspect was that it also laid the groundwork for what officials had in store for Niagara Falls later.
Authorities soon realized that if they were to tackle soil erosion at Niagara Falls, they would have to hatch an even more ambitious plan, i.e., completely dry up the Niagara Falls.
This was the beginning of the American Falls International Board, which the IJC established to work on this project.
Engineers from the USACE worked on this project again, and this time they began to take even more drastic measures than just reducing the flow of the water to just 25% of its usual current.
To do this, a temporary structure had to be built over the falls. This structure was known as a “cofferdam.” But how exactly did this structure help?
Cofferdams are usually built inside waterfalls or other kinds of water bodies when drying out certain water sections. However, officials had to take a different approach when it came to a beast-like Niagara Falls.
The cofferdam that was built was actually a huge 600 feet barrier that stretched along the current’s entirety.
The cofferdam, naturally, took a huge sum of money – to the tune of almost $4 million in today’s money to be built. The Albert Elia Construction Company handed over the project by USACE.
The firm then began constructing the cofferdam. However, as it turns out, the construction company also served other purposes than just drying the dam.
The construction company not only had to build the cofferdam, but it was also required to scourge the riverbed that was eventually going to get exposed.
The walls’ surface also had to be made clean by the removal of any loose boulders on top of the surface. The rocks, however, still had to be exposed to moisture even when the riverbed went dry, for which a sprinkler system was introduced.
With this plan in mind, workers began to enforce the plan on June 9th, 1969. However, the workers were faced with a real danger while working. Anyone who merely slipped for a second would be exposed to the rocks on the riverbed below.
For this reason, a lifeline was installed connecting the mainland with Goat Island and running across the middle of the river.
Of course, the lifeline would help anyone who missed their footing, as they would immediately be able to grab on and save themselves. Thankfully, however, there was no need for this lifeline.
There were no such instances of people losing their footing, and nobody plunged to the icy depths below. The cofferdam finally began to shape up after three days.
It is easy to say that the cofferdam was constructed, but nobody would suspect the work put into this Herculean task. A whopping 1,200 trucks were required to carry material from the American Falls to the cataract, where the material was thrown over the edge.
Can you guess the amount of material that had been dumped over the edge of the cataract by the end of the operation? It was almost 28,000 tons!
This was it. Finally, the workers were able to achieve what had hitherto been termed as an impossible dream. June 12th, 1969 is when the workers finally completed the project, and the very last breach in the cofferdam was plugged up.
Thus, this structure stretched all the way from Goat Island to the mainland and successfully ran the water of the Niagara Falls dry.
Nearly five million people every year used to bring in revenue in the form of tourism at Niagara Falls during those times.
Naturally, the people around Niagara Falls were worried that halting the waters’ flow would significantly affect tourist activities. And their concerns can be understood. However, others believed that the dry waterbed would hold a different kind of attraction altogether for tourists.
Those who were worried about tourism taking a hit due to Niagara Falls’ drying seemed to have it right. Tourism actually did die down by a drastic degree in the year 1969. However, the few who visited the falls during that year were met with a sight for sore eyes.
What do you think it was? Well, as the riverbed continued to recede, something spectacular was revealed. Hundreds and hundreds of coins were revealed, which of course, made for excellent souvenirs for all those tourists who visited.
The USACE was able to report that there were actually some visitors who had come to take a look at what this magnificent beauty of nature would look like when it’s running dry. Some of them were even brave enough to step out to the edge of the waterfall and walk onto the riverbed that had been previously scourged.
However, the reputation of the cofferdam had preceded itself. It was to witness the fantastic structure of the cofferdam built to dry up one of the biggest waterfalls in the world.
Those who visit Niagara Falls rarely ever expect to see something sinister or spooky. All they are looking for is an excellent and breezy holiday where they get to witness one of the marvels of the world cascading down in a rush of waters.
The same held true for those visitors who visited the falls during the year of this project. While they expected to behold a magnificent and rocky sight, what met their eyes was gruesome instead. What they spotted was sickening: the remains of a woman and a man who had apparently drowned in the current.
What happened to this man and woman, and how did they come to be found on the riverbed? Contemporary reports state that the man had actually turned up in the same attire as the rest of the USACE working on the project.
Nobody suspected a thing, of course, but to their great shock and astonishment, the man threw himself over the edge of the water merely a day before the drying of the Niagara Falls was completed. Something was amiss indeed.
If this was any other year, then the man’s body would have been lost to the great waters of Niagara Falls. However, this time, because Niagara Falls was scheduled to be dried up in just a day, officials had to wait for just another 24 hours to recover the man’s body.
As soon as the riverbed was dried up, officials began scouring the area for the remains of this unfortunate man. They did find his body, to their relief, but they ended up discovering something even more blood-curdling along the way. What exactly did they see?
Officials had been looking for the remains of the man who had thrown himself off the edge of the waterfalls a day earlier. However, they also happened upon the remains of a woman at the same time.
They could make out that she had been clothed in a red and white striped garment when she fell to her death in Niagara Falls. While the man’s remains had not yet decomposed fully, the remains of this woman were well on their way to becoming a part of the earth. But who was this woman, and what led her to this fate?
Authorities removed the remains of the woman and attempted to discover her identity. However, she was too far gone for any autopsy to deliver the required results, and thus, she remains a nameless woman even today.
However, the one thing that officials found on the woman pulled the heartstrings of everyone present. She had on her a beautiful wedding ring, which remained almost entirely intact. What was gut-wrenching about this wedding ring was the inscription discovered on the inside of the ring. The inscription read, “Forget me not.”
Unfortunately, this unfortunate young man’s deaths and this lady clad in red and white brought to the fore a significant issue that the public had to take note of. It was not just them who had found their fate leading them to the depths of the water.
Dozens of others also seem to have chosen Niagara Falls to be their last resting spot. You might be surprised and saddened by the following fact we reveal to you. Experts say that a significant number of people plunge to their deaths in the icy waters every year. This number averages at around 40 deaths a year in current times.
As we have already seen, the USACE built a lifeline to prevent the occurrence of any accidents in Niagara Falls. They built this lifeline because of a genuine and threatening problem plaguing the falls ever since it became a world-famous tourist attraction.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of the falls themselves and the rocks’ precariousness, many people have accidentally lost their footing and have plunged to the depths below. In fact, daredevils from across the world have been trying to plunge into the riverbed below ever since the 1820s, but very few have come out of the feat alive.
A daredevil of a teacher, Annie Edson Taylor, at the age of 63, decided to undertake the adventure of a lifetime. She attempted to take a plunge into Niagara Falls encased in a wooden barrel and appear unscathed on the other side.
This lover of thrill undertook this adventure in the year 1901. It was the adventure of a lifetime, and she managed to see it through all the way to the end. Once completed, she had one piece of advice to give fellow daredevils – “No one should ever do that again.”
Dozens of people attempted the same trick again, i.e., taking a plunge over the Niagara Falls encased in a wooden barrel. More than 80 years after Taylor pulled off her stunt successfully, another daredevil took the stage.
Karel Soucek, a Canadian stuntman, managed to pull off the same stunt in 1984, but when he tried to pull off the same thing again the following year at Houston Astrodome, Texas, he, unfortunately, lost his life. Similarly, in 1990, Jesse Sharp tried to conquer Niagara Falls with a canoe’s help, but he was never seen again.
The Niagara is a thing of beauty and a joy to behold for the tourists who flock towards it every year. This was the case even in 1969 when tourists went over to see what the waterfall looked like when it was dry.
But for the authorities in charge of the entire project? It was business as usual for them. Once the waterfall was completely dry, the first step that had to be completed was removing the loose boulders from the waterfall’s face.
Even though this project aimed to dry out the Niagara Falls and fix soil erosion problems, a sprinkler system had to put in place to provide moisture to the shale layer that was on the surface of the waterfall, which had been eroding because it was drying out.
But how did authorities manage to clear the loose boulders from the surface of the waterfall? They achieved this by shutting themselves up in secure cages, which were then let down gently over the edge of the waterfall with the help of several cranes.
With this step, the plan was entirely underway. The next step was to drill the waterbed that was on top of the American Falls.
The workers needed to reach up to the 180-degree point for the execution of the next step. Once they had reached this point, they measured the rocks’ absorbency levels by setting up various tests and measures. The contours of the surface of the walls had to be charted out as well.
The geological surveys would take some time to be completed, and tourism could not be halted for so long. This is why Niagara Falls was made open to the public again on August 1st, 1969.
A walkway was constructed all along the dry riverbed to allow the public to walk across this magnificent waterbed. Although the walkway proved to be a popular installment with the public, it did not draw as many visitors as the falls usually do.
On August 19th, 1969, the operation came to its final stages, allowing the researchers to study the formation of Talus along the surface of the waterfall. This was made possible by drilling holes onto the falls’ surface, which allowed them to examine the surface in greater detail.
After this, the operation was nearly complete, and the researchers got what they came for. The clean-up operation was set underway, but it proved to be a difficult task.
So, now, after all this, the researchers who studied the Talus formations were able to come to one conclusion: that Talus was important in supporting the face of the cliff behind Niagara Falls. To protect the Talus, therefore, the authorities came up with a second plan.
They proposed building a dam at Niagara Falls, which would help increase the water level in the waterfall basin, but it also would help to submerge the offending rocks with water.
Unfortunately, the proposal for the building of the dam over Niagara Falls was ultimately rejected. The grounds for the rejection were that constructing a dam would significantly weaken the American Falls flow.
And so, it was decided that the Talus would be left the way it is. So, was this whole operation done in vain then? Not exactly. The operation allowed the authorities to conduct some important conservation work on the surface of the waterfall.
What exactly did the conservation work include? Well, it took over six months to stabilize the American Falls. Bolts, cables, and anchors were are required for the conservation work.
The threat of landslides was also genuine. Sensors were installed all along the project lines to alert the authorities if there were any signs of landslides during their period of work. This work that they did in 1969, it turns out, was hugely impactful in conserving the waterfalls even today.
It was finally, in November, that this entire project was completed. Of course, the cofferdam was destroyed, and the Niagara Falls was allowed to cascade over the cliffs once again.
Instead of turning this natural wonder into an artificial exhibit, IJC was able to carry out active conservation work, allowing the natural beauty of the falls to last for years to come.
Surprisingly enough, the Niagara Falls that people saw after the conservation project were actually very different from those that the European explorers initially discovered.
Industrialization in the early ages had left its impact on the region, which is why it had become necessary to begin conservation projects way back in the 1800s itself. This did not deter the businesses that were dependent on the falls for electricity – all they had to do was relocate to an area downstream.
It was not long before people began expressing concerns that industrialization left Niagara Falls as a mere shadow of its former self. This was mainly a concern at the beginning of the 20th Century when businesses were redirecting the waters’ power to power their own establishments.
This led to the beginning of a very pertinent question, “How do we balance industrialization and conservation?”
So far, people had been concerned with soil erosion destroying Niagara Falls’ beauty, which is precisely why businesses believed that they were actually doing the world a favor by harnessing the falls’ power.
By decreasing the amount of water flowing down the falls, the establishments believed that they directly contributed to conservation efforts.
The United States and Canada both had one goal in mind: to allow for industrialization to take place without affecting the natural volume or beauty of Niagara Falls too much.
This is why the two countries soon agreed on the matter. What were the contents of this agreement?
The agreement that the two nations came to stated that almost 75% of the Niagara Falls water would be diverted to power businesses and industries during the nights and winters.
Peak tourist times, however, called for different measures. During these times, the amount that was diverted was just 50%. To create an illusion of a heavier force, the lip of the Horseshoe falls was altered as well.
This agreement has seemed to be held up over the years, as the diversions are taking place even today. This means that tourists have not been seeing the whole force of Niagara Falls for several decades now.
But these brilliant waterfalls remain one of the biggest tourist attractions in the world despite that.
The gap between Goat Island and the mainland was built almost a hundred years ago, but today they have almost completely withered away. To fix these bridges, conservation work needs to be carried out again.
This is why in 2016, an announcement was made by the Niagara State Park Frontier Commission to dry out the Niagara Falls once again.
The Commission wanted to rebuild the bridges in 2019, but they were ultimately forced to postpone the project.
This is because they could not secure the funding that they needed to undertake such a large-scale project. The Commission needed at least $30 million to rebuild the bridges from scratch.
The project may have been postponed, but it is still being considered. And this time, tourism will probably not be as affected as it was in 1969, thanks to social media’s power.
But what about those sinister secrets that the falls had in store for the people who saw it in its dried-up state? Will those gruesome secrets be revealed to us yet again? Only time will tell!