Niagara Gazette

Columns

February 20, 2014

GLYNN: Niagara's scenic ice bridge marred by tragedy

Niagara Gazette — That footage on the television news showing the Crystal Beach ice caves — luring several thousand visitors along the Lake Erie shoreline — conjures up thoughts of beauty and disaster at Niagara Falls.

Fortunately the authorities finally stepped in and closed off the dangerous areas to the numerous explorers at the beach.

Although frigid temperatures often discourage tourists from venturing too long into Prospect Park or Goat Island to view winter’s majestic scenery, the ice bridge below the falls has always been the No. 1 off-season attraction. Some people, especially first-time visitors, are tempted to walk out on the ice for a closer look, a dangerous trek that now will likely result in an arrest and stiff fine. 

Perhaps the worst ice bridge tragedy occurred on Feb. 4, 1912, when hundreds of visitors — many on train excursions here to enjoy ideal weather — flocked across the thick span linking the U.S. and Canada. Countless local residents also were heading out for a day down in the Niagara Gorge when word suddenly spread that the ice bridge had broken loose, its massive chunks carrying three people downriver. That meant more rubberneckers.

Firemen, policemen and even railroad workers dashed to the site in an attempt to rescue a trio — Mr. and Mrs. Eldridge Stanton of Toronto and Burrel Hecock,17, of Cleveland — initially stranded on a large ice floe. The first responders quickly lowered ropes down to the river from the Cantilever Bridge (for the Michigan Central Railroad) and the parallel Whirlpool Rapids Bridge, at the foot of Ontario Avenue. A construction crew from the railroad dropped a rope with a couple of irons on the end of it. Hecock grabbed it and, a witness said, “made a superhuman effort to raise his feet into the iron rings.” The crew managed to get him up a third of the distance when his strength gave out and he fell back, vanishing in the rapids.

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