Niagara Gazette

February 20, 2014

GLYNN: Niagara's scenic ice bridge marred by tragedy

By DON GLYNN don.glynn@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

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.

Meanwhile, the Stantons, separated on their own floe, were also doomed. Shortly after Hecock had disappeared, the couple reached the spot where a rope dangled. Stanton, 36, grasped the rope and then reached for his wife, 28, but the current was so swift he couldn’t hold on. He pulled off his coat, clasped his wife in his arms, and the couple fell to their knees and prayed, according to the Gazette reporter on the scene. They were swept away into the rapids.

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HATS OFF! : To Bernard Stack, a longtime local attorney, has been named the grand marshal for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade (March 17) in downtown Niagara Falls. Stack, a native of the city’s North End, was part of a group that re-established the original Ancient Order of Hibernians that folded in the mid-1940s. Subsequently, he served as its president, state treasurer, and district director responsible for developing new clubs and generating interest in the organization that promotes the Irish heritage. In the 1980s, Stack was a prime mover in securing two AOH conventions for the Cataract City. 

An accomplished accordionist, Stack has played for years with a band called ‘The Blarney Bunch.’

For more than 20 years, his law firm was adviser to public sector unions of the city police and fire departments. Stack and his wife, Barbara, reside in Youngstown.

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CHEAP SHOT: A sign waver in the student section during the recent Niagara vs. Canisius basketball game at the Gallagher Center was way off the mark. The sign was obviously a jab at Canisius star Billy Baron, hinting that he had an inside track because his father was the coach. The younger Baron, now the third top scorer in the nation, is a talented and highly skilled player who would be a welcomed asset to any major college team in the U.S.

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SPRING FEVER: Baseball fans in the Buffalo-Niagara area will apparently have to deal with the scalpers if they don’t have tickets for the Toronto Blue Jays’ home opener against the New York Yankees. A club official announced Tuesday that the April 4 game at the Rogers Centre is sold out. As in the past, many of those seats will be filled by loyal Yankee fans on the popular one-day bus excursions.

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TRIVIA QUIZ: The first Women’s Rights Conference was held in Seneca Falls, N.Y., in 1848. (Answer to Sunday question)

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FAMILY TIES: Overheard in McDonald’s restaurant in the City Market: “I hope all my blood tests come back as negative as my mother is” — a customer waiting in line.

 

 

 

Contact reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.