Kirk Jones grew up in the town of Canton in the north-central United States, close to the city of Detroit. On October 20th, 2003, when he was forty years old, Kirk went over Niagara Falls and survived. In the past, ten people had gone over inside containers, or protected in other ways, and survived. And, in 1960, a seven-year-old boy went over accidentally and lived. But Kirk went over in his ordinary clothes and he went over intentionally. He was the first person ever to do this without being killed.
Kirk’s father, Ray, was a successful businessman. He owned a factory in Canton. When he finished his education, Kirk took a job in his father’s factory. He stayed at this job and he continued to live in his parents’ home.
In the summer of 2003, Ray decided to sell his business. He was getting old, and besides, the business was not doing as well as it had in the past. He and his wife, Doris, had decided to retire in Oregon, far away on the Pacific coast. Kirk planned to stay behind in Canton.
Before separating, Ray, Doris and Kirk decided to take a last trip together. They drove to Niagara Falls—about 250 kilometers from Canton. Kirk felt a bit depressed during the trip: he was losing his parents after living with them for his whole life, and, to make matters worse, he had lost his job when his father sold the factory. While the family were in Niagara Falls, Kirk started to think seriously for the first time about an idea that had crossed his mind occasionally in the past.
He knew that in the past hundred years or so fifteen people had gone over the falls as a stunt. They’d all protected themselves, by getting into barrels or big rubber balls—or in some other way. Kirk had a feeling, though, that if you went over in the right spot, you could survive without any protection. He had always felt insignificant because he’d never married or had a career or accomplished anything important in his life. He liked the idea of doing something spectacular that would impress people and make them notice him.
Eight weeks later, after his parents had left Canton, Kirk was feeling worse and was even thinking about committing suicide. He didn’t really want to kill himself, but, at the same time, he didn’t want to keep living in the way he had been. So he decided he would go over the falls. If he died, it didn’t really matter. If he lived, he would have the satisfaction of having done something special—and, perhaps, afterwards, his life would be better.
So on October 18th, Kirk and his friend Bob Kruger drove from Canton to Niagara Falls. Kirk had $300 his parents had sent him in his pocket. Bob brought along his video camera. When they arrived at the falls they crossed the border and found a motel on the Canadian side. Then they bought some vodka and had hamburgers for supper. The next day they spent some time driving close to the falls so Kirk could look for a good spot to go into the water. In the evening they went to a strip club.
In the morning they got up early and had a few drinks of coke and vodka. Then they headed for the place that Kirk had chosen. Kirk left a note for his family in Bob’s car along with $30—all the money he had left. Then they left the car. Kirk climbed through the guard rail that runs along the Niagara River and Bob walked a short distance in the direction of the falls, carrying his camera.
After he got under the rail, however, Kirk hesitated. He felt he didn’t have the courage to jump in. He stood there for a while and finally decided he wouldn’t go over the falls after all. He was just about to climb back through the railing when a woman who was passing by called out to him and said, “You’re not going to jump are you?” As Kirk explained later, that question somehow gave him the courage he needed. He replied, “I think I will,” and he jumped in.
The current took hold of him and he floated on his back toward the falls. He heard people on the bank screaming but he didn’t look at them. Bob, who was filming everything, said later that Kirk looked like a ‘floating ghost’ as he went by.
Kirk went over the falls feet first. He was falling for about five seconds. He said it was like being in a giant, beautifully lit tunnel. And he said, when he hit the pool at the bottom, it felt like he’d landed on a rock. Then he dove down about thirty or forty feet. He was under the water, tumbling around, for about a minute.
When he came to the surface he was near a tourist boat. The tourists tried to help him but he refused to let them. He swam to some rocks and climbed out. Then he stood on the edge of the river with his arms raised and a big smile on his face while tourists took pictures of him. A few minutes later, the police arrived. They arrested him.
Kirk had a few sore ribs, but otherwise, he was completely uninjured. The police did take him to hospital though because they thought he might be insane. The doctors examined Kirk and said he was mentally healthy. Then he was taken to court and charged with doing an illegal stunt. His brother, Keith, who had come to Canada, put up the $C750 bail. Later when his case came up he was fined $C5000 and ordered never to come back to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.
After Kirk went over the falls, many people wondered why he hadn’t first arranged some sort of sponsorship or made some media deals. They felt he’d thrown away an opportunity to make a lot of money. But Kirk did get a well-paid job with a circus as a result of his adventure. He had to get dressed up in fancy clothes and talk about what it felt like to go over the falls, and when he wasn’t doing that, he had to help look after the animals. After a few months, the circus closed down 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.