Monday, June 18, 2012

Till Death Do Us Part: Eldridge and Clara Stanton, Niagra Fall Death Embrace

Nik Wallenda's cable walk over Niagra Falls tonight reminds me of a tragic, yet beautiful act of love between a man and a woman.

On February 4th 1912 - by noon on Sunday, approximately 35 persons were standing on the ice bridge which had formed covering the Niagara River below the Falls each winter. This ice bridge was huge, thick and solid, allowing people to cross the entire width of the Niagara River from Canada to the USA on the surface of the ice rather than using the International Bridges located downstream. Two such persons on this ice bridge were Eldridge Stanton, age 32 and his wife Clara Stanton, age 28, both of Toronto, Ontario. The Stanton's had been married for six years and had come to Niagara Falls twice each year; once in summer and once in winter since being married. They had arrived in Niagara Falls on Friday for a winter weekend visit. They strolled hand in hand as they crossed the ice field.  Also on the ice bridge were Ignatius Roth age 17 and Burrell Hecock, age 17, both of Cleveland, Ohio. William "Red" Hill was opening the little refreshment stand he built every year as soon as the ice was thick enough. With him were Monroe Gilbert and William Lablond. Hecock and Roth were throwing snowballs and playing leapfrog.

Hill suddenly felt a small tremor under his feet. At the same time came a loud groaning sound from the base of the Falls which could be heard over the roar of the distant Falls. Immediately Hill recognized the danger and began running towards the Canadian shore as he shouted for the others to follow him. Lablond, Gilbert and the boys followed Hill. Mr. and Mrs. Stanton turned back towards the American shore. The ice bridge began heaving up and down as the grinding noises became louder. The ice had began breaking apart. As the Stanton's ran towards the shore, they suddenly stopped a stones-throw width away as the ice separated from the shore and water appeared where the ice once was. As the gap began to widen, the Stanton's were frozen in place by shock for a second before turning and racing for the Canadian shore. As they ran, Clara Stanton began to slow and stumbled to the ice from exhaustion within 50 feet of the Canadian shoreline. Eldridge Stanton tried unsuccessfully to lift his wife. The ice field on which they were standing began to move. Stanton grabbed his wife and tried dragging her as he shouted for help from the men ahead. Lablond was in waist deep icy water and with the assistance of Hill they pulled Roth to shore and shouted for Hecock to jump to safety. Hecock heard the cries for help from Stanton and turned around. Hecock rushed toward the Stanton's in a desperate attempt to save them. Hecock reached the Stanton's and helped Eldridge lift his wife to her feet. Together they tried to get Clara to shore but the gap between the ice and shore was quickly widening. The three were now stranded as the ice bridge flowed ever quickly downstream. The ice sheet was swinging wildly. On this ice sheet, the Stanton's and Hecock paced back and forth. Hecock and Eldridge were seen talking while Clara stood holding her husband's hand. As they passed beneath the first of three bridges spanning the Niagara Gorge, the ice sheet seemed to edge towards the American shore. Directly downstream, a hydro-electric station was discharging  water into the river. The pressure from this discharge crumbled the nearest edge of the ice forcing the three to the opposite side. The giant ice sheet broke into two pieces. One half drifted towards the American shore while the other half on which Hecock and the Stanton's stood remained in mid-stream. The first half grounded out against the American shoreline. On each of the two lower bridges located three hundred yards apart, firemen, policemen and railway workers had stationed themselves in order to lower ropes to those stranded as the passed underneath. Stanton was seen to place his arm around the waist of his wife. About a quarter mile above the rapids, the ice sheet broke in half again, this time separating the Stanton's from Hecock.

Hecock waved and shouted something. Stanton returned the salute. Clara crouched down beside her husband. The river current was becoming faster as it neared the rapids.  Hecock's ice sheet remained in mid-stream. Hecock took off his coat in preparation of attempting to grab one of the dangling ropes. As he passed beneath the bridge, Hecock grabbed one of the ropes and swung free of the ice flow he was riding on. Hecock was plunged waist deep into the water as his rescuers attempted to lift him. As he was hoisted 60 feet above the water Hecock lost his grip of the rope and fell into the raging river below. Entering the rapids, Hecock was never seen again. The Stanton's had watched Hecock's valiant attempts. As the flow swirled under the cantilever bridge, Stanton quickly grabbed the nearest rope and looped it around his wife's waist. As the flow continued and the rope became taunt, it broke. Stanton grabbed another rope as they passed underneath the Lower Bridge. He quickly tied the rope again around his wife's waist but changed his mind and untied the rope, knowing it would be futile. Stanton took his wife in his arms, kissed her and let her down. They both knelt together with his arms around her. The flow remained intact until it reached the giant wave in the rapids and spilled over throwing both into the raging water to their deaths.


Post a Comment

<< Home