Niagara Falls is the name given to a set of three waterfalls that sit across the border between the US and Canada or between the state of New York and the province of Ontario. The largest of the three is the Horseshoe Falls, mostly on the Canadian side, followed by the American Falls then the Bridal Veil Falls. The falls are not the largest in the world but when combined, have the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world and have a vertical drop of more than 165 feet, or 50 metres. As well as being spectacular there are a number of ghosts of Niagara Falls and here are a few of their stories.
No-one is entirely sure where the name Niagara came from, though doubtless one of the tribes that lives in the area would have used a name that inspired it. One of the first Europeans to see the falls was Frenchman Samuel de Champlain in the visit in 1604 while Pehr Kalm, the Finnish-Swedish naturalist, was the first person to scientifically describe Niagara in the early 18th century.
Since its ‘discovery’ the falls at Niagara have become a major tourist attraction and even as early as the start of the 19th century, the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, Jerome, visited the falls with his new bride. Unfortunately, there have also been any number of deaths from accidents, malicious acts and of course, from daredevils going over the falls in any number of crazy contraptions. Therefore, it is no surprise that Niagara Falls is also home to a number of ghosts.
The Maid of the Mist
The oldest story associated with the Falls comes from a Native tale involved the god of thunder, as they knew Niagara. A young maiden lost her husband and with it, her hope. She paddled her canoe onto the river, singing death songs until one day the current caught the boat and sent her to the falls. She was about to be thrown over the falls to her death when Heno, the god of thunder who lived in the Falls, caught her. He took her in and, with his sons, helped her overcome her grief.
One of the youngest of the sons fell in love with the maiden and they were married, soon having a son. Her only regret was not seeing her people again. Then Heno discovered a plot by a great serpent to kill her people and allowed her to return to warn them. The serpent was enraged when its plan had failed but Heno rose from the falls and struck it down. However, its body fell and caused Heno’s home to floor so he and his family were forced to leave Niagara to settle in the sky. Since then thunder is heard in the clouds and echoes down the falls where the god once lived.
The story of the ghost of Number 7 trolley is a more modern story and a typical ghost story. The boy in the story was a 16-year-old called Trevor who visited the Falls with his mother and sister. He was an angry young man who felt his mother favoured his sister since their father abandoned them. On the day, the family went on the Maid of the Mist boat, visited the Cave of the Winds and finally got on the Number 7 trolley to ride over Horseshoe Falls. There were only two seats and his mother told him to give his to his sister. An argument ensued where his mother told she never wanted to talk to him again so when he got to the bottom, he threw himself over the Falls.
Now, Trevor rides Number 7 trolley, the place where he found out his family didn’t care about him. He can be seen with tears in his eyes as the trolley pulls in at the bottom of the Falls.
Cave of Evil Spirits
As well as Native gods and ghostly boys, Niagara also has a cursed cave. The Cave of the Evil Spirits was named so by the Seneca Indians and an account of an early European visitor gives a glimpse as to why. In 1669, Robert Cavalier de LaSalle came to the Falls, the fifth white man to set foot on the land. He saw the cave and asked his native guide about it but was told not to go in.
When he asked why, the guide said that when men had first been made, the Great Spirit loved them and gave them the land to enjoy. But men became bad and formed war parties, which angered the Great Spirit. At the Great Falls of Onguiaarha, rocks began to fall due to his anger and a Devil’s Hole opened, becoming rapids and allowing the Evil Spirit to be released. Strange noises were heard from the cave so a brave young man went to investigate. He came back a raving lunatic whose hair went from black to white as snow. Since then, no-one has entered the cave.
LaSalle ignored the warning and decided to go in. The Evil Spirit whispered in his ear that if he returned home, he would have a long and useful life, with many generations of descendant and his name would be recorded for posterity in a great empire. But if he went to the west, he would die alone, far from human habitation and his bones would be picked at by animals in the tropical sun.
The explored left the cave to find that things had already begun to follow the latter course as his men had abandoned him to return to Montreal. Within a decade, he was broke so he decided to do what the Spirit had said not to do – he set out to Louisiana to start a colony. In the middle of the expedition, he was murdered by his own men and his body dumped in the Mississippi River to rot.
Legend of the cave remains to this day and while no-one takes too much notice, it is worth remembering that the curse took twenty years to effect LaSalle. So who really knows how many people have suffered from it without realising that the cause of their downfall was the whispering in the dark of that cave in Niagara!