Niagara Falls has been known to take one’s breath away….
…literally–most notably the breath of daredevils who have tried to survive a wild ride over that turbulent water.
Joseph Albert “Jean” Lussier, son of Joseph “Hosanna” & Delia (Fontaine) Lussier, and grandson of Damase & Vitaline (Gendreau) Lussier was born 27 Oct 1891 in Concord, New Hampshire. Shortly after he was born his French Canadian parents moved back to the Rouville Quebec area. When he was 16, Joseph returned to New Hampshire and learned to speak English. He is also believed to have lived in Springfield MA. He worked in a grocery store. One source states he married Rose Monast.
Jean had heard about daredevil Charles Stephens’ death in Niagara, N.Y. while attempting a ride over the falls. Charles had outfitted a wooden barrel with an anvil for ballast, tying himself to the anvil for security. Records indicate his right arm was the only thing found in the barrel afterwards. Jean decided to vacation in Niagara, New York, dreaming about successfully going over the falls.
Between 1901 and 1985, ten people went over the Falls in a ball, barrel or rig. Seven were successful while three died in the attempt.
Reportedly Jean Lussier invested his life’s savings of $1,500 in his own design for a rubber ball, six feet in diameter with inner and outer steel bands. An Akron Ohio rubber company helped him to develop the idea. It was lined with thirty-two inner tubes for shock protection. In addition, he devised a system of air tanks to keep him alive should he get trapped under the waterfalls.
By 1928 it was illegal to perform such feats over the falls, but on July 4th,
Jean Lussier rowed his rubber ball out to the middle of the Niagara River, upstream from
Horseshoe Falls. Reportedly 150-200 THOUSAND people were in Niagara to witness the event. Around 3:30 p.m., the rubber ball with Jean inside, went over Horseshoe Falls. He sustained only minor bruising and became the fourth known “daredevil” to take the challenge.
National Labor Tribute (Pittsburgh PA) November 15, 1928, page 3 “Lussier made his leap in a nine-ply rubber ball, constructed with a steel frame and a covering of canvas, with 32 air holes. A weight was attached to the bottom to keep the spheroid in an upright position. He was strapped in a sitting position when released in the upper rapid.”
Times-Picayune (New Orleans LA) of July 29, 1928. “Remarkable Moviette of Man’s RIde Over Niagara Falls…”In a 758-pound fabric and rubber ball which he constructed himself, Lussier made the perilous trip in the presence of 150,000 Fourth of July sightseers. The
ball built with two air compartments, had space for Lussier to sit down. He started a short distance up Niagara river and after riding the falls was towed to shore.”
After this successful feat, Lussier sold off pieces of his rubber ball to tourists to make money. Reportedly when he had sold out of the real thing, he began selling pieces of rubber that were purchased from a near by tire store.
In 1952 (at the age of 61) Jean Lussier considered trying again–so he would be the first man to ever go over both the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls. He never made this attempt, retiring in 1958. Lussier died 14 Jun 1971 while living in Niagara Falls, New York (maybe to keep an eye on his competition).
Keep an eye on Niagara Falls yourself, by using the Webcam.
- Frequently Asked Questions about Niagara Falls & Daredevils – [archived version]
- Photo-gravures of Niagara Falls. — (1898)