Niagara Gazette

December 4, 2012

BRADBERRY: Surviving the cliff … in a better barrel

By Bill Bradberry
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The nation might learn a lesson or two by examining how the wonderful City of Niagara Falls, New York has learned not only how to take the plunge over the fiscal cliff, but to apparently survive it.

When Annie Taylor, the 63-year-old school teacher decided to take the plunge on October 24, 1901 she was certain that her feat would bring her fame and fortune; she certainly earned a name for herself and in the process, helped boost Niagara Falls, but when she died twenty years later, she was broke.

Ten years later on July 25, 1911, daredevil Bobby Leach also survived the plunge in a steel barrel though it took nearly six months in the hospital to heal his shattered body. He did not earn a lot of money for his efforts either.

Then, Quebec native Jean Lussier conquered the cliff on the Fourth of July, 1928 in a 6-foot inner tube covered rubber ball with a double walled steel frame. He made his small fortune the hard way by displaying and selling small slices of rubber inner tube cut from his contraption for fifty cents apiece, a tough way to earn a living!

At least as many would be rich and famous daredevils tried and died attempting to beat the challenge, proving that it takes more than simple courage and a well crafted barrel to survive the cliff, while those who took the plunge and survived also proved that fortune is much more elusive than fame.

Perhaps one important lesson to be gleaned from Niagara’s experiences with cliff diving which we might share with our representatives in Washington who now seem fascinated with the prospect of taking the plunge over the fiscal cliff might be that, while the imagined awe and splendor of the blind leap is certainly entertaining if not spiritually inspiring, the reality of the consequences of actually diving into the abyss are not quite worth the effort without a good plan as well as a better barrel.

As witnesses to the historic, seemingly perpetual rise and fall of personal as well as public fortunes tied to our most fortunate geographic juxtaposition on a cliff over-looking the crashing of the water from one Great Lake into another, Niagara Falls should be well versed in the benefits as well as the perils of such behavior.

Poor Annie Taylor, buried right here at Historic Oakwood Cemetery is “living” proof of such folly.

But, we don’t easily learn the most fundamentally important lessons in life; we are prone to repeat them over and over, and over again.

Another lesson that we might share with our Washington cohorts is that compromise, cooperation, and collaboration almost always work better than mindless confrontation. We know this because we have proven it to be so by doing the exact opposite for more decades than most of us can remember.

There was a time, beyond our recent collective memory when we were able to demonstrate some levels appreciable of progress toward the realization of a healthy, sustainable balance between the public and private interests, between and among governmental jurisdictions and political parties, but somewhere along the line, much of that goodwill evaporated and we were left with what we have now, not much.

But there are encouraging signs on the horizon that we might be able to avoid the plunge, or in the alternative, take the leap in a better barrel.

Among other things, the State’s demonstration of intent to fulfill decades of broken promises by finally making a small down payment on its billion dollar pledge to invest in our Western New York economy, and improving conditions at the State Park at Niagara Falls, the county’s demonstrated commitments to the Culinary Institute, and the private sector’s rediscovery of the dormant hotel potential in downtown Niagara Falls all point in the same direction ... forward!

But it is way too soon to celebrate; there is so much more to do together, for starters:

• Re-engineering our entire international travel and local ground transportation infrastructure.

• Figuring out what might be the best way to help NFR refine and move their vision ahead.

• Finding a way to complete the demolition of dangerous structures in the city.

• Recycling and utilizing vacant but viable buildings in and around the downtown core.

• Re-energizing institutions like the Niagara Community Center to help train a new technical/vocational workforce.

• Encouraging local entrepreneurship that can participate in what will inevitably become a bustling tourist industry again.

• Taking full advantage of our history and heritage as an internationally important center for human rights and energy development.

• Collaborating with our adjacent communities to develop world class all-season recreational facilities.

• Encouraging our abundant educational institutions to work together to develop the region as a planetary learning consortium.

• Developing a plan for the creation of a world class public art and performing arts and cultural center capable of hosting the world’s finest.

We’ve got work to do; let’s quit the squabbling and get BUSY building a better barrel!

Contact Bill at bill.bradberry@yahoo.com