As the world mourns the senseless death of Harambe, an endangered 17-year-old gorilla killed at the Cincinnati Zoo on May 28, I’d like to share with the readers the oldest publicized animal cruelty event for entertainment purposes I’ve found while searching the internet. It took place on September 8, 1927 at Niagara Falls.
First, a little history on the men who played key roles in the deaths of a buffalo, two raccoons, a dog and a cat (one source mentions a panther). Some records say two foxes and an eagle were also aboard, but no records are available and I believe they perished during the stunt.
Until 1836, the Pavilion Hotel was the best in the area. William Forsyth, a ruthless businessman, had torn down the original Niagara Falls Hotel, which he had acquired in 1817. John Brown was his competition, building his hotel, the Ontario House Tavern in 1820. It was located south of the Pavilion Hotel. Both men also operated a stagecoach service for the tourists who visited Niagara Falls.
General Parkhurst Whitney, the proprietor of the American Eagle Hotel, is a well-known part of Niagara Falls history. The outlying islands at the falls are named after is four children. The Sister Islands, located 500 yards east of Horseshoe Falls, are named after his daughters Asenath (a-see-nath), Angeline and the third island is called Celinda Eliza. The fourth and smallest is known as Little Brother Island named Solon after his infant son. In 1827, Whitney came up with a scheme to draw tourists to both sides of the falls.
To construct the stunt, “The Michigan,”a retired schooner no longer in sailing condition, was purchased by the three men. The ship measured 16 feet from keel to deck. Then “ferocious animals” were to be placed on board ship and the ship sent over the falls with the animals on board. The men responsible even decorated the old ship to resemble a pirate ship, right down to tying dummies to the deck as pretend pirates.
Many of the spectators were allowed to board the ship and see the “dangerous cargo.” Captain James Rough of Black Rock, the oldest navigator of the Upper Lakes, generously volunteered his services, and most like got a cut of the money collected.
The event was publicised as early as August 27 stating
“The Animals will be caged or otherwise secured and placed on board the “Condemned Vessel”, on the morning of the 7th, at the Ferry, where the curious can examine her with her ‘cargo’ during the day, at a trifling expense. On the morning of the 8th, the Michigan will be towed from her position at Black Rock to the foot of Navy Island, by the Steamboat Chippewa, from whence she will be conducted by the Manager to her last moorings. Passage can be obtained in the Michigan from Black Rock to Navy Island, at half a Dollar each.”
Many of the spectators were allowed to go aboard ship beforehand and check out the “dangerous cargo”, for a price, of course. Even in 1827, it was ALL about money! Some of the cargo included a buffalo, two small bears, two raccoons, a dog, a feline and 15 geese. Approximately 15,000 spectators watched as the animals were sent over Horseshoe Falls. The Michigan broke into splinters as it passed the center of Horseshoe Falls. The bears managed to get loose, where one was seen climbing the mast. At least two of the geese also escaped and swam to shore. All of the other animals on board were killed.
Imagine the fear the animals experienced out there on the water. The roar of the falls in their ears. These poor helpless creatures didn’t stand a chance or know what was happening to them. Yet this was legal entertainment. The same holds true today in the circus and in zoos. Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right.
Wiki.com reports October 19, 1901, a cat named Lagara was sent over the falls in a barrel and survived.
This journey into the past shows that animals have been sacrificed for entertainment purposes for close to 200 years now, perhaps farther back than 1827. Money, as always, seems to be the motivation. Animal advocates look forward to the day circus animals and animals kept captive will no longer have to perform for money.
Your comments are welcome. Please note the photos weren’t taken at the actual event. The photo with the spectators is undated, but the one of Horseshoe Falls is circa 1849.