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The Quick 10: 10 Niagara Falls Daredevils

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On June 30, 1859, a French acrobat added something new to the already-dangerous trend of performing crazy stunts at Niagara Falls: he crossed its gorge on a tightrope. We'll get to him in a minute, but first, a few other people decided to seek their fame by risking their lives at the Falls (and one who didn't mean to).

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sampatch1. Sam Patch was kind of the first Evel Knieval. In early October of 1829, Sam, AKA "The Yankee Leapster," jumped from a 125-foot ladder that was extended out over the river. He was supposed to jump at noon, but just before he was scheduled to jump, the wind snapped a piece of the ladder off. It was rescheduled for 4 p.m., and that time, it went off without a hitch. He jumped and the crowd waited with bated breath, staring at the spot where he was supposed to appear - but he never did. Finally, he crawled to shore in an unexpected spot and his short-lived daredevil career was born. Sam did the same jump again several days later - to a bigger audience, of course - and then went on to jump into the Genesee River. The first time worked, but the second time was his undoing. Just a month after his Niagara Falls jump, Sam Patch leapt into the Genesee and never came out. His frozen body was discovered in the thawing river in the early spring of 1830. The epitaph on his gravestone reads, "Sam Patch - Such is Fame."

tayloe2. Annie Edson Taylor was the first person to ever go over the Falls in a barrel and survive. In 1901, the 60-something-year-old schoolteacher commissioned a custom-made barrel made of oak and iron and lined with a mattress. To test it out, Taylor sent a cat over the Falls five days prior to her jump - and it made the trip intact. Annie made the same trip several days later, and she made the trip intact as well, although she did suffer a gash on her head. She made it quite clear that the trip was anything but fun and that she never intended to do it again: "I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces, than make another trip over the Fall."

blondin3. Blondin (Jean Francois Gravelet) was a French tight-rope walker who shimmied his way across the Falls in 1859. At 160 feet above the water (some reports say 190 feet), Gravelet walked 1100 feet from one side to the other. It took him 17 and a half minutes. And he wasn't content to do it just once - he did it blindfold, he did it on stilts, he did it carrying his manager on his back, he did it at night with locomotive lights shining the way and he did it carrying a table and chairs. The plan was to sit down and enjoy a piece of cake and some champagne, but when he lost the chair, he sat on the cable instead and had his snack before finishing the journey. The American people loved him and he was known as the hero of the falls, but there was at least one person who was unimpressed: Mark Twain. He referred to Blondin as "That adventurous ass." He died of complications relating to diabetes at the age of 72.

maria4. Maria Spelterini proved that women can do anything men can do by repeating Blondin's tightrope stunts in 1876. To date, she is the only woman to ever do so. Like Blondin, she crossed several times after the first time, with each trip getting more and more complicated. The second time she crossed with a peach basket strapped to each foot, the third time she was blindfolded, and the fourth time she crossed with her ankles and wrists handcuffed.

5. Captain Matthew Webb was the first person to ever successfully swim the English Channel without any help from artificial means. You would think that would mean he would have somewhat of an advantage when it came to swimming through the Whirlpool Rapids below Niagara Falls, but sadly, that wasn't the case. Reports say it looked like he survived the first half of the swim but may have met his match when he tried to cross into the entrance to the whirlpool.

karel6. Karel Soucek, a stuntman from Canada, went over the Falls on July 3, 1984. He went the Annie Taylor route, designing a custom barrel that was bright red, insulated with foam and emblazoned with the words "The Last of Niagara's Daredevils" and "It's not whether you fail or triumph, it's that you keep your word... and at least try!" He tried... and he succeeded. But he didn't have permission and was fined $500. Soucek decided that it was the beginning of a career and managed to get a stunt scheduled at the Houston Astrodome where he would be dropped from a barrel from the top of the building - 180 feet in the air - into a tank of water. But the stunt went wrong - the barrel started flipping around in midair and the landing was compromised. Instead of falling cleanly into the water, the barrel hit the side of the tank, severely injuring Soucek. He died the next day.

7. Steve Trotter followed in Soucek's footsteps the next year. He, also illegally, went over the Falls in two pickle barrels attached end-to-end. They were insulated with the same foam used to pack nuclear warheads and Trotter was equipped with a lifejacket, flashlights, oxygen tanks and a two-way radio. Unlike Annie Taylor, Trotter loved his ride, telling people that it was "like the best roller coaster ride you ever had as a 10-year-old." Being a 10-year-old probably wasn't too distant of a memory for him - at 22, he was the youngest person to ever go over the Falls in a barrel. He went over again 10 years later, this time joined by fellow daredevil Lori Martin. Trotter didn't get permission for that stunt either, nor his "Tarzan" stunts off of the Golden Gate and Sunshine Skyway Bridges.

The first Tarzan stunt occurred the same year as his first Niagara stunt - he jumped off of the Golden Gate Bridge while attached to a cable with a wooden disk at the end of it. He stood on the wooden disk and swung back and forth before he was caught and arrested. The Sunshine Skyway incident happened in 1997 and didn't go as smoothly: Trotter and five others attempted the same stunt but didn't test the weight; the cable snapped and at least two of the other jumpers were severely injured.

8. and 9. Peter DeBernardi and Jeffrey James Petkovich were the first people to do a two-person "jump." They went over the Falls in a barrel equipped with rudders to help them steer through the rapids and a video camera to record the entire event. DeBernardi apparently wanted to discourage people from getting addicted to drugs like he was and especially wanted to set a good example for his then-two-year-old son. How going over Niagara Falls in a barrel was going to do that, I'm not sure... anyway, both of the men in the barrel survived. No word on if his son ever became a drug addict or not.

roger10. Roger Woodward was a seven-year-old boy when he went over the Falls - but it wasn't on purpose. In July 1960, Roger was doing the tourist thing with his sister when the private boat they were in capsized, dumping both of them and the driver out into the river. Roger went over the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side and, miraculously, came out totally unharmed. One of the Maid of the Mist tourist boats spotted Roger's bright orange life jacket and pulled him aboard. His sister was rescued before she went over the Falls and ended up with just a cut hand. The driver of the boat, however, died.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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