The Day the Niagara Falls Stopped


In early 1848, the winter had gotten bitter. The cold wave was unusual, and unexpected, even. Lake Erie really was eerie. (and pun fully intended) The lake was completely covered in a three-foot thick layer of ice. In March, that year, after a prolonged spell of warmth, strong winds broke the ice and chunked it own into large blocks. An east wind then drove the ice chunks to the western end of the lake. On March 29, 1848, the winds changed direction, and all the ice chunks congregated at the mouth of the Niagara River.

That morning, when the people in the region woke up, they were greeted with a strange sight. The Niagara Falls was gone: there was no water. The “American and Bridal Veil Falls” were now completely dry and the Horseshoe Falls were reduced to a pitiful looking waterfall at its core. The explorers among the lot spent the next few hours digging up and searching for things among the rocks. And they found incredible things: muskets from the War of 1812, human bones, native offerings that were made to the Great Spirit of Niagara, and lots and lots and lots of gold and silver coins.

Two days later, a grand roaring ensued: and the river began to flow again. That was the only time this phenomenon happened, until a whole century and twenty years later, in June 1969, the falls stopped: but with the intervention of man, since the United States Army Corps of Engineers decided to shut off the American and Bridal Veil Falls in order to make the American side just as attractive as the Canadian side. They wanted to remove the talus from the base of the falls in order to enable the water to fall and traverse a much greater height. During the project, it is reported that a lot of water was sprinkled on the bed of the American Rapids in order to keep the heat from the sun from causing an expansion of the many cracks in the rock. But, as it became apparent, in November 1969, it turned out to be too expensive to remove the talus, and that it would create a rather artificial appearance anyway.

Back to the 1848 photograph, not much is known about its origins. The sepia toned photograph shown here has been listed as a picture found online, by the website of the Niagara Falls Public Library. Currently, it is still unknown in terms of date, origin and ownership, in line with what the documentation on the website says.

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