The photo below is an aerial view of what Niagara Falls usually looks like. But for a period of about 40 hours on March 29-31, 1848 Niagara Falls stopped. No water flowed over the great cataract for the first time in recorded history. Not surprisngly people went a little nuts.
Niagara Falls was already a big tourist attraction by 1848. Villages sprouted on both the U.S. and Canadian sides of the river to accommodate the sightseeing throngs. Residents also built waterwheels to harness the Niagara River’s power to run mills and drive machinery in factories.
An American farmer out for a stroll shortly before midnight on March 29 was the first to notice something. Actually, he noticed the absence of something--the thundering roar of the falls. When he went to the river’s edge, he saw hardly any water.
Came the dawn of March 30, people awoke to an unaccustomed silence. The mighty Niagara was a mere trickle. Mills and factories shut down because the waterwheels had stopped.
The bed of the river was exposed. Fish died and turtles floundered about. Brave—or foolish— people walked on the river bottom, picking up exposed guns, bayonets and tomahawks as souvenirs.
Was it the end of the world? Perhaps it was divine retribution for what some folks thought was a U.S. war of aggression against Mexico? In an age of religious revivals, theological explanations abounded. Fearing the end of the world, thousands of people filled special church services praying for the falls to start flowing and the world to continue, or for salvation and forgiveness of their sins as the Last Judgment approached.
Because communications were haphazard in 1848, no one knew why the falls had stopped.
But from Buffalo, NY word eventually arrived that explained the bare falls and dry riverbed. Strong southwest gale winds had pushed huge chunks of ice to the extreme northeastern tip of Lake Erie, blocking the lake’s outlet into the head of the Niagara River. The ice jam had become an ice dam.
And just as news traveled inward, news also traveled outward. Thousands came from nearby cities and towns to look at the spectacle of Niagara Falls without water. People crossed the riverbed on foot, on horseback and in horse-drawn buggies. Mounted U.S. Army cavalry soldiers paraded up and down the empty Niagara River. It was a potentially hazardous act for there was no telling when the rushing waters might return. One entrepreneur used the hiatus to do some safety work. The Maid of the Mist sightseeing boat had been taking tourists on river rides below the falls since 1846, and there were some dangerous rocks it always had to avoid. Since the river had ceased running and the rocks were in plain sight, the boat’s owner sent workers out to blast the rocks away with explosives.
March 30 was not the only dry day. No water flowed over the falls throughout the daylight hours of March 31.
But that night a distant rumble came from upriver. The low-pitched noise drew nearer and louder. Suddenly a wall of water came roaring down the upper Niagara River and over the falls with a giant thunder.
The ice jam had cleared. To the relief of the locals, the river was running again.
Added: 21st March 2011
Posted By: Lava1964
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