falls:
short for ‘waterfall’

barrel:
a round container with a flat top and bottom

think seriously:
considering doing something and believing that probably you will do it

fine:
money paid to the goverment as a punishment for breaking the law

circus:
a travelling show with wild animals etc

Kirk Jones (easy version)

Kirk Jones grew up in Canton, in the north-central United States. On October 20, 2003, when he was forty years old, he went over Niagara Falls, the place where the Niagara River suddenly drops almost sixty meters.

Kirk was wearing only his ordinary clothes, but he was not hurt. In the past, ten other people had gone over the falls without being killed, but only one person had done this in ordinary clothes. That was a seven-year-old boy who had gone over by accident. Kirk’s trip over the falls was not an accident.

Kirk’s father, Ray, was a businessman. For many years he had owned a factory in Canton. When Kirk finished school he took a job in his father’s factory and kept living with his parents.

In the summer of 2003, Ray sold his business. He was getting old and the business was not doing well. He and his wife, Doris, decided to go to live in Oregon in the western United States. Kirk was planning to stay in Canton.

Kirk and his parents decided to take a trip together before they separated. They drove to Niagara Falls, about 250 kilometers from Canton. Kirk felt sad and unhappy during the trip. He had been living with his parents all his life and now he was losing them. Besides that, he had lost his job when his father sold his factory.

While the family were visiting Niagara Falls, Kirk started to think seriously about going over the falls. He knew that, in the past, quite a few people had done this without being killed or seriously hurt. He also knew that none of them had gone over in their ordinary clothes. They had all gone over inside things like big balls or ‘barrels‘ so they would not be hurt. Kurt believed that if you went over in the right spot you would be safe even if you were wearing ordinary clothes.

Kirk liked the idea of going over the falls because he had always felt unimportant. He had never even got married or had a good job. He thought if he did something really surprising and dangerous, people would notice him.

Eight weeks after his parents left Canton, Kirk was feeling very sad. He was even thinking about killing himself. He didn’t really want to die, but he also felt he didn’t really want to keep on living in the way he had been living. So he decided he would go over the falls. If he died, it didn’t matter. If he lived, he would know that he had done something important, and that would make him happy. Maybe, afterward, his life would be better.

On October 18, 2003, Kirk drove to Niagara Falls with his friend, Bob Kruger. The Niagara River separates the United States and Canada. Kirk and Bob crossed into Canada and found a place to stay there.

They spent a day having fun in Niagara Falls and then on the morning of October 20, they drove to the place that Kirk thought was the right spot to go into the water. They parked their car and got out. Kirk walked to the edge of the water. Bob walked down the river toward the falls. He had his camera with him.

Kirk got into the water. He lay on his back and floated toward the falls. Bob took pictures of him as he went past.

Kirk went over the falls feet first. He was falling for about five seconds. When he hit the water at the bottom, it felt like hitting a rock. He went down about ten meters under the water. He said he was under the water for about one minute.

When he came up, he swam to some rocks and climbed out. He was not hurt. The police came and took him to the hospital. They thought he was crazy. Later, because he had broken Canadian law, he had to pay a large ‘fine,’ and he was told he could never come back to the Canadian side of the falls again.

For a while, Kirk was famous because of what he had done. His story was in the papers and on television. And he got a job in a circus. He had to get dressed up and tell people about his trip over the falls. After a few months though, the circus closed and Kirk went to stay with his parents in Oregon.

- information from: Detroit Free Press, 04.10.04, Shawn Windsor; CBSNews.com, 03.10.23; “How Stuff Works” (http://travel.howstuffworks.com/niagara18.htm); The Guardian (UK) 03.10.22; The Guardian, 03.10.24