What is courage? 

Annie Edson Taylor, her cat, and barrel

Desiring to secure her later years financially, and avoid the poorhouse, [Annie Edson Taylor]
decided she would be the first person to ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Taylor used a custom-made barrel for her trip, constructed of oak and iron and padded with a mattress.[4] Several delays occurred in the launching of the barrel, particularly because no one wanted to be part of a potential suicide. Two days before Taylor’s own attempt, a domestic cat was sent over the Horseshoe Falls in her barrel to test its strength to see if the barrel would break or not. Contrary to rumors at the time, the cat survived the plunge and 17 minutes later, after she was found with a bleeding head, posed with Taylor in photographs.
Would you do that? I know I wouldn’t. I couldn’t even have sent my cat over in the barrel. Physical courage (not to mention animal abuse) is not in my makeup. That must be why I admire it in others. Annie was an adventurer even before this, traveling to various cities to work as a teacher, and even residing for a while in Mexico. That must have been unusual for a white, single, middle class woman of her time. Her way of achieving independence might not be so different from the reality TV stars of today. 

9 responses to “What is courage? ”

  1. Trippmadam Avatar

    I do have physical courage, but on the other hand I am scared to speak to groups. I was not, when I was younger.


  2. Glenda Bailey-Mershon Avatar

    Did something happen to make you scared of public speaking now? I am frightened when I do that, too, and yet I do it all the time. I learned that I can calm my nerves by being prepared and realizing that the audience is not the enemy–fear is. So I try to remember mostly they are on my side. Physical courage is a whole other thing to me. I suppose I have it in that I can resist pain to do the things I need and want to do, but you won’t catch me jumping out of planes!


    1. Roberta (Bobbie) Avatar
      Roberta (Bobbie)

      That just takes foolishness much as bravery (or ignorance, or immaturity) and you’re no fool. In her case it seems to be desperation.


  3. Glenda Bailey-Mershon Avatar

    Thanks for commenting!


  4. Roberta (Bobbie) Avatar
    Roberta (Bobbie)

    I think you show physical courage, sometimes just getting thru the day!


  5. mrscrotty Avatar

    Brilliant and daft at the one time, wasn’t she great to think of it to secure herself or get a severe battering trying! And the poor cat, fair play to her, too. Thanks for the story. 🙂


  6. Glenda Bailey-Mershon Avatar

    Thanks, Bobbie. I’m not sure if it’s brave if you really have no choice. I could be an invalid, I suppose, but my fainting style is so gauche!


  7. Glenda Bailey-Mershon Avatar

    You’re so, right, Jane–brilliant AND daft! I think I admire her for being willing to invent a way so off the beaten path, but, as Bobbie says, I suppose it was foolish. Still she was brave to be so adventurous at a time when women were encouraged to fade into the woodwork.


  8. Glenda Bailey-Mershon Avatar

    This is what Annie said to the press after escaping from the barrel:
    “If it was with my dying breath, I would caution anyone against attempting the feat… I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the Fall.” Did I mention she was 63 at the time? I suspect her earning days were over, she was widowed, she had few prospects. I couldn’t have done it at 23!


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