NIAGARA FALLS, ONTARIO - It is one of the wonders of the world. As the rainbows emerge from the mist, the beauty of Niagara is unmistakable. Another thing that is obvious is its power. About 2,500 feet from the brink of the falls sits a rusty old barge, wedged into place for a century, a constant reminder of that power and danger.
On August 6th, 1918, the power of the river turned beauty into terror for two Buffalo men. Gustave Loftberg and James Harris were working on barge that was involved in dredging operations on the river. It was being pulled by a tugboat, when the tug hit a rocky shoal and sandbar about a half mile up from the falls the tow cable snapped, sending the barge adrift.
Loftberg and Harris were hanging on for dear life. They threw an anchor, opened the dump hatch and were lucky enough to ground the barge on some rocks before it went over the brink of the Horseshoe Falls.
The rapids were too strong to send a tug, or any other boat out to them. At that point, according to news accounts from the day, the Niagara Falls Fire department arrived with a life saving gun. They fired a rope from the roof of the old Toronto Power Station. It landed and they tied it off, but the rope was too thin to be a rescue line, but it provided some comfort to the terrified men. The coast guard in Youngstown came across the river and they put a large gun on top of the hydro power station and shot a larger rope out to the barge
A breeches buoy was sent over, but it got snagged on the line so they waited until morning and then they called upon a man who knew the Niagara, a daredevil and riverman named Red Hill. Hill climbed, hand-over-hand, upside down, down the rope and freed the breeches buoy.
And finally, a day after the barge broke loose, before a crowd of thousands that had gathered along the shore, James Harris, a father of five was hauled to safety, followed by Gustave Loftberg.
Today, the barge still sits there, and a plaque has been mounted along the river's edge, to remind visitors of the heroics that took place here nearly a century ago.
-Special thanks to the Niagara Falls (Ont) Public Library for use of images of the actual rescues of Gustave Loftberg and James Harris.