Friday, February 13, 2009

Niagara Falls Ice Bridge, 2009

click on photos to enlarge!above: the Horseshoe Falls as seen on Feb.13, 2009.
below: a view from above the Horseshoe Falls, with the multiple-rainbows.
The annual Ice Bridge (2009) has already formed overtop the Niagara River down in the gorge. The video (at bottom), taken Feb.13, 2009, shows the Ice Bridge beginning to crack as it is pummeled by the relentless force of the Niagara River swirling at the foot of the Horseshoe Falls. Downstream the river is frozen-over past the Rainbow Bridge, except for a part in front of the Maid of the Mist dock. The river was grinding away at the ice, forcing ice chunks off the edge to flow, counter-clockwise back towards the base of the Falls, where they were swept back into the current, crashing into the ice bridge again, knocking more ice off, as the river water itself is seen disappearing underneath the ice cap.
above: Feb.13, 2009 - the Horseshoe Falls, with the Niagara River covered with an Ice Bridge.
above: a giant frozen salamander head, with its nose-tip broken off, lays in the gorge, on the U.S. side of the Horseshoe Falls. Feb.13, 2009,  photo by R.Bobak.
above: the river's typical swirling eddys have frozen solid.
above:  Feb.13, 2009 - a view of the American Falls; the southerly portion of these falls (seen at the right) are the Bridal Veil Falls. Goat Island is at the far right.
above:  Feb.13, 2009 - the river is seen frozen past the Rainbow Bridge. The Canadian-side Maid of the Mist docks are at the centre-left (just out of frame); the American-side Maid of the Mist dock is at the right, at the foot of the tower. Prospect Point is the area to the right of the tower.
It is astounding that visitors used to regularly walk out onto the ice bridge, even going tobogganing down the ice hills near Prospect Point. Though it was not legal, vendors even set up shacks on the ice to sell booze and souvenirs.
below is a George Barker photo from c.1890, showing the crowds of tourists which once casually roamed all around the ice bridge below the Falls! This photo most likely is looking at the American Falls, seen in the centre distance, with Prospect Point (a massive chunk of which collapsed in 1954) seen at the upper left. The American Incline, which brought many of the tourists down from the top of the gorge, would have been just out of frame to the left.
On Jan.22, 1899, about a hundred tourists were on the ice bridge when it suddenly broke loose, but they all managed to scramble to safety; it is said that the last man to escape had to grab onto the girders of the Honeymoon Bridge as the ice floe he was standing on passed underneath the bridge.
But after a Feb.4, 1912 tragedy here, venturing out onto the ice field was banned. 3 people were killed when the ice bridge suddenly collapsed, leaving them stranded on ice floes which then began moving downriver. Rescue ropes were even thrown to them as they passed under the MCR Cantilever bridge, and then under the Whirlpool bridge, but the stranded people, though catching the ropes, could not tie themselves off fast enough and lost their grip, and perished as the ice floes broke up in the Whirlpool Rapids just beyond the Whirlpool bridge.
The dead were Mr. Eldridge Stanton and his wife Clara Stanton, visiting from Toronto, and 17 year-old Burrell Hecock from Cleveland.
When the ice bridge first broke, Hecock and his friend Ignatius Roth tried to get to the Stantons to help them; as the ice continued to break apart, Hecock ended up stranded with them, while Roth was rescued from the river by two men who had also been on the ice sheet when it broke: by William Lablond, along with Canada's famous Niagara Riverman William "Red" Hill Sr. (who happened to be working his concession selling beverages out on the ice when the collapse began, and who had managed to shepherd 23 people to safety that day).
The ice sheet, which the Stantons and Hecock were stranded upon, split apart again as it moved downriver, this time separating the husband and wife from the youth. The ice floe carrying Hecock was in the lead, with the Stantons following behind on another chunk of ice.
Hecock managed to catch a rope thrown down by rescue crews as he passed under the MCR Cantilever Bridge; tragically, as the ice floe he was standing on kept moving downstream, Hecock fell into the river, but still held onto the rope. The rescue crew tried mightily to haul him up; Hecock held on as successive ice floes battered past him in the water - he had been pulled up about 60 feet until he slipped off the rope and perished.
The Stantons, meanwhile, trapped upon their ice floe, had seen what happened to Hecock ahead of them. As their ice floe approached the MCR Cantilever Bridge, the husband managed to get a rope around his wife and himself, but as the ice floe moved them downstream, the sudden tautness broke the rope. Their final chance was a rope which was thrown from the last remaining bridge, the Whirlpool Bridge; tragically, Eldridge could not get the rope fully tied onto Clara's waist, and at the last moment removed it instead of letting it take her into the water half-tied. Still holding the rope, he also declined to hold onto it to save himself - he let the rope go, and in moments both husband and wife perished as the ice flow crashed apart in the rapids.
This entire horror story took about an hour to unfold, from the sudden breaking of the ice bridge to the terrible finale under the Whirlpool Bridge.
below: this is one of the last photos of Burrell Hecock seen alive, on Feb.4, 1912, standing on the ice floe as it was moving down the Niagara River. This view looks towards the American side, at the top are clearly seen the three abutments of the MCR Cantilever Bridge and the Gorge Route streetcar tracks by the river's edge. The ice floe is floating downriver (heading to the left) so Hecock is seen standing towards the front of the ice floe. It was just after this photo was taken that Hecock would have grabbed the rope thrown from the MCR bridge above; then as the ice floe continued on, he would fall into the river as the rescuers tried to haul him up. At the time this photo was taken, the Stantons would have been just behind Hecock, stuck on their ice floe, just out of frame to the right, and they would have seen what was happening to Hecock.
                                                          above and below photo from the Niagara Falls Ont. Library archives
above: this is the same view looking under the Michigan Central Railroad Cantilever Bridge, as it was seen in July, 1917. The same three footings and streetcar tracks can be seen which were in the earlier photo.
Note that the 1912 photo was taken from a position standing slightly north of the Cantilever bridge, while the 1917 photo was taken from a position just south of the bridge; the 2010 photo below actually matches the same camera view position as the 1912 photo of Hecock on the ice.
above: Jan.2010, the same view: the same three footings of the former MCR Cantilever Bridge are still seen on the American side (shown with the red arrow) while three other of its footings are still seen on the Canadian side, at the bottom right. The streetcar right-of-way has been pretty much obliterated on the American side. The current bridge which is now seen at the left is the "new" MCR bridge, which was built in 1925 right beside the Cantilever Bridge, and is now abandoned. (see more on these MCR bridges  here; here)
below is a memorial plaque dedicated to Hecock and the Stantons, which sits at the top of the Maid of the Mist elevator on the Canadian side:

The memorial marker reads:
"To the memory of Burrell Hecock of Cleveland Ohio aged 17 years who lost his life in an heroic attempt to rescue Mr. and Mrs. Eldridge Stanton of Toronto Ontario when the ice bridge in the gorge immediately below was swept down the Niagara River and into the Whirlpool Rapids, February 4th, 1912".
In the photo above, the American Falls are at the left, Goat Island is in the center distance, and the Horseshoe Falls are out of frame at the upper right.
[I have seen the names of the victims spelled as 'Heacock' and 'Hecock', and also 'Stanton' and 'Staunton']
Astoundingly, the Niagara Falls Review reported in a front-page article (Feb.13, 2009) that people are still trying to walk across the Niagara River: back in January 2009, a British woman in her 50's actually walked across the Niagara River ice bridge from Canada, right under the Rainbow Bridge, to meet with her 38 year old fiancee who was waiting for her on the American side. Unreal!! Then, they had to both be rescued on the New York State side, because they were unable to climb up the icy gorge. Now there's a Valentine's story!
below: Feb.13, 2009 - video by R.Bobak of the relentless Niagara River pounding the ice bridge. Enjoy!
see more on the 2010 Niagara Ice Bridge here.
see more on the 2011 Niagara Ice Bridge here.
Thanks for visiting Right In Niagara!

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