When Scientists Drained Niagara Falls In 1969, They Were Left With More Questions Than Answers

During the summer of 1969, engineers discovered a deep, hidden secret about Niagara Falls. After draining the falls by cutting off the flow from one peak and redirecting it, what laid beneath was revealed. What they found, they never expected. Buried among the rocks was a finding that created far more questions than answers. What did they unearth? Continue reading and discover the truth that scientists found buried underneath the natural beauty that is Niagara Falls.

A Fine Piece Of Nature

a view from above
Adrian Ace Williams/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Adrian Ace Williams/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Do you remember the first time you visited Niagara Falls and learned just how majestic it was? Its sheer vastness is enough to stimulate a great enough reaction. Millions of tourists visit year-round and post all the pictures they can online for their friends and family to see.

Believe it or not, 50 years ago, the falls nearly lost their beauty. Something happened that caused scientists to grow concerned about them. They decided to investigate but had no idea that what they planned to do could have done more harm than good.

An Insane Discovery

niagara falls
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Scientists decided to peek behind the scenes of Niagara Falls but had no clue what would happen next. After announcing their plans, the public had their doubts as well.

Tampering with nature always tends to be a challenge, so many wondered how things would go down. Did they have a real plan in place or was it only wishful thinking? As soon as the water of the falls started to recede, spectators began trusting what science could do.

A Supreme Wonder

niagara falls look
DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images
DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images

Around 18,000 years ago, Niagara Falls didn’t exist. It came about thanks to ice sheets from the North Pole that left what we know today as North America. After giant chunks of ice melted away, the falls formed.

The glaciers were so large, that the amount of water that melted away went into the Niagara River, but didn’t form the falls instantly. A ton of time passed by before the water eroded the cliffs enough to create Niagara Falls as we know it today.

A Convenient Border

Canadian American border
John Moore/Getty Images
John Moore/Getty Images

Niagara Falls today is the natural border between Canada and the United States. Tons of people visit both of the countries at a high clip, but there are no records on how long they’ve been doing it.

Visitation could’ve started 1000 years ago or even much earlier; we can only figure that people would enjoy the beauty way before the world found out about it. With no written records on hand, no one knows who the first visitor was.

Samuel de Champlain

Niagara falls
The Print Collector/Heritage Images via Getty Images
The Print Collector/Heritage Images via Getty Images

One of the earliest written records does reveal who one of the first Europeans to hear about Niagara Falls was. It was an explorer from France by the name of Samuel de Champlain.

This was around the start of the seventeenth century, but he wasn’t the first from Europe to visit the Falls. The first person to take a trip and see Niagara Falls in person was Father Louis Hennepin, who went there in search of New France, which is what they called North America at that time.

A New Finding

the falls
Harvey Meston/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Harvey Meston/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Five years after Father Louis Hennepin came back from the Falls, he mapped out his thoughts and impressions on paper. That’s when he wrote “A New Discovery” article, where the first appearance of the Falls name appeared.

That means the term Niagara Falls came into existence in 1683. The name comes from “onguiaahra” (Iroquoian decent), which means “the strait.” After he published the article, Hennepin became famous for being the first person from Europe to see Niagara Falls.

The New Tourist Spot

niagara falls
Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

It wouldn’t be until the 1800s that Niagara Falls would become a tourist destination. That means it took 200 years post-discovery for the first tourists from Europe to go and admire the beauty that was there.

It was then that serious business people saw the potential at hand. That’s when hoteliers and the sort began making lucrative investments on the land near Niagara Falls. The Falls then became a popular destination for honeymooners and remains a popular location for newly-wed couples today.

Developing An Industry

on the falls
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Coming to Niagara Falls to relax and spend your free time was one thing, but the potential that it carried was another beast. Those who wanted to capitalize on the great waterfall saw its vast potential and knew they could make good use of it.

By the end of the 19th century, the world’s very first hydroelectric generating station came about, built right near Niagara Falls. It started to produce an insane amount of energy that could be put to good use.

Enter: Nikola Tesla

the man himself
Contributor/Getty Images
Contributor/Getty Images

The hydroelectric generating station was a brilliant and revolutionary invention, but it carried a flaw. It lacked the ability to carry electricity further than 300 feet, and this wasn’t good at all.

No one knew how to improve this fault until Nikola Tesla came along and impacted the world. He discovered a way to send electricity long distances by using alternating currents. The first experiment sent electricity over to Buffalo, New York, which is nearly 20 miles from the power plant!

Still Producing Electricity

niagara falls plant
Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images
Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

The invention might’ve come around more than a hundred years ago, but it still works the same way it did when Tesla was alive. It’s still as important as it was back then, too! Electricity from renewable sources is one of the best forms there is.

It’s even more valuable this century due to how overpopulated cities have gotten over the years. Overpopulation fuels pollution, so it’s always great to bring in clean energy whenever there’s a way.

North America And Canada

the falls looking nice
John Moore/Getty Images
John Moore/Getty Images

With Niagara Falls being the natural border between the U.S. and Canada, it belongs to both countries. Both sides send at least 15 million tourists a year to witness the natural wonder.

Six million cubic feet run down the falls in one minute. It’s scary to think about how much damage can result from that if let outside the falls. It has the potential to destroy whole cities! After all, “Water and fire are dangerous servants, but fearful masters.”

Changes In The Water

The falls
GEOFF ROBINS/AFP via Getty Images
GEOFF ROBINS/AFP via Getty Images

The water levels in Niagara Falls changes during the night. During nightfall, there is less water in Niagara Falls, believe it or not. This is possible due to the human factor and isn’t something that happens naturally.

During the ’50s, a treaty signed gave local companies the ability to take more water at night due to their being fewer tourists around. Any curious tourist who showed up after dark would hardly be able to tell the difference.

Winter Time Falls

Niagara in the winter
Raymond Boyd/Getty Images
Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Has it ever crossed your mind about what happens with the Falls during the freezing winter months? Does the waterfall freeze in temperatures below 0 degrees Celsius? Well, the answer to that is that they partially become frozen.

It only happens in some parts, but the flow never stops. Another thing that takes place is that the water turns into clouds of vapor. It’s an amazing sight to see and another reason for tourists to stop by!

Three Different Falls

more than one fall
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Technically speaking, Niagara Falls belongs to both Canada and the United States, but there are different parts that belong to the U.S. solely. The Bridal Veil Falls and American Falls are the two American waterfalls that are American.

Conversely, there aren’t any parts that are only Canada’s. The largest fall, called Horseshoe Falls, is the one that represents the natural border between the neighboring countries. A very appropriate name after you’ve looked at it from a high position.

Concerns From New York

The Falls
Patrick Gorski/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Patrick Gorski/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Only regular visitors of Niagara Falls have the ability to see the changes it experiences with time. Each gallon that falls off the cliff lessens the charm of the Falls. At least, that’s how the citizens of New York feel that live near Niagara and see it often.

Each new visitor can’t deny how amazing the falls look, dating 100 years ago or even today. Still, there are some stones that have accumulated at the bottom that could cause some issues in the future.

International Joint Commission

Niagara Falls
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The concerns that New York citizens had reached both American and Canadian authorities, so an organization that handles shared waters intervened. They’re called the International Joint Commission.

With the Americans growing concerned over Niagara Falls, they were the ones that suggested that someone needed to do something about the rocks at the bottom of the waterfall. They even went as far as asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for their expertise on the matter.

Starting The Operation

engineers-drain-niagra
Reddit
Reddit

There weren’t any other solutions for the sediments at the bottom of the Falls, so the engineers chose to shut it down. That choice of action was only temporary until they got rid of all the rocks and earth from under the water.

In 1969, over one thousand trucks took rocks and earth to Niagara Falls to pause the flow of water so they could clean the area of concern. They dumped the deposits upstream of the falls for three days.

What Is A Cofferdam?

gazing at the water
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Engineers ended up creating a cofferdam, which was a temporary structure constructed between Goat Island and the mainland. They made it from 27,000 tons of rocks brought to the site thanks to all those trucks.

The length of this cofferdam was 600 feet. On paper, it sounds like a rather ambitious move to create a dam preventing the water from falling down. While many believed it would work, others had plenty of doubts.

American Falls

stopping the Falls
Imgur.com
Imgur.com

Well, the engineers ended up succeeding! Their plan of action to stop water from falling towards American Falls was a success. They switched the path from there to Horseshoe Falls.

It was impossible to stop the whole Niagara Falls from having water drop, so only the American Falls portion halted for some time. Due to that insane amount of water getting stopped from flowing, it had to travel somewhere else, didn’t it?

The Locals Grew Fearful

on the falls
William England/London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images
William England/London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images

The locals had good reasons to become fearful. For one, they feared what would happen when you block the natural path of a river because that’s not something you’d ordinarily do. What if it flooded their land?

Their other concerns were with the tourists. They feared the lack of water would diminish the number of people that came to visit the Falls. Meanwhile, some thought the exact opposite. They thought this unique sighting of what was under the Falls would bring in a ton of new people!

Visiting Numbers Went Down

at the falls
Helmut Kretz/Keystone Features/Getty Images
Helmut Kretz/Keystone Features/Getty Images

Unfortunately, preventing the water from falling had a negative response with visitors. Drying up American Falls led to a huge loss in the number of tourists. By the end of 1969, the number of people who came dropped lower than any previous year.

Still, that didn’t stop those who do go to visit from experiencing the unique opportunity to take home something from the site. Some would take rocks, while others lucked out and found coins from the riverbed.

Skeletons?

walking the Falls
Three Lions/Getty Images
Three Lions/Getty Images

During the planning of this operation, no one expected to discover anything as vile as skeletons. As the water receded, spectators started to notice bones underneath the water. How creepy is that?

At that moment, no one knew if the bones belonged to people who lost their lives or larger animals that drowned in the current. One thing was certain, the lack of tourists ended up being a good thing because it might’ve prevented people from coming back if they saw that!

A Woman And A Man

A traveling boat
Harvey Meston/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Harvey Meston/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Shockingly, the first pair of skeletons engineers found was a man and a woman. After closely examining the bones, it turned out the man died by jumping into the waters, but that didn’t reveal the year of his death.

As for the woman, no possible causes of death showed themselves other than drowning. Many speculate that she witnessed her love perish in the waters, so she chose to meet him in death in the same manner.

A Place To Say Goodbye

pointing to the Falls
Contributor/Getty Images
Contributor/Getty Images

As more water went away, more skeletons started to pop up. Niagara Falls was a place that many folks went to say goodbye to this world. While it was more common then, experts say that about 40 people per year still do the same today.

People with no intention of living go to the falls because once you leap, there is nothing that can save you. Perhaps a miracle, but no human can fight off the cold and treacherous waters.

Risking Their Lives

people posing
William England/London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images
William England/London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images

Not only did folks who no longer wished to live lose their lives in the falls, but there were many accidents involving people falling in and disappearing. Stunt people would go there to do the impossible of jumping from the cliffs and swimming towards the shore.

Sadly, that was never possible and never will be due to the water being so fierce. No human can defeat it so don’t let anyone you know attempt this.

Annie Edson Taylor

Woman
Reddit
Reddit

As crazy as this next fact might sound, it did happen. In 1901, a woman named Annie Edson Taylor wanted to become famous and connected to her favorite place on Earth in a unique way.

She trapped herself inside of a massive barrel and asked people to push it from the shore into the Falls. She ended up surviving, but it was an awful experience. She highly advised no one to ever try and duplicate what she did. Still, some didn’t listen and tried.

Meet, Karel Soucek

the man in the barrel
Grunge/YouTube
Grunge/YouTube

Much like Annie Edson Taylor, Karel Soucek was another who tried testing the waters and succeeded. He was a Canadian stuntman who did the trick in 1984. After some time passed, he wanted to try it again in the Houston Astrodome located in Texas, but he wasn’t as lucky at that time.

Another man by the name of Jesse Sharp wanted to travel down the Falls in a canoe. He was a stuntman as well and did it, but no one ever saw him after it.

A Scary, Unpredictable Time

Airplane Niagara Falls
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

Those present during the time of waters receding began telling stories about their feelings concerning the findings under the Falls. They talked about how they liked it, but also how they had fear over the power of the waters.

After seeing the skeletons, they discussed how fragile and inferior they felt compared to the immortal waters. The engineers also had a battle of concern, admitting they had no clue it would turn out to be a tough undertaking.

A Dangerous Place

the falls falling
William England/London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images
William England/London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images

Interestingly enough, the engineers didn’t know all the facts before taking on this project. When they saw the situation, that’s when they chose to change their course of action. They had no clue the rocks under the water supported the cliff.

That meant that removing the rocks could have possibly destroyed the whole thing! Hard work aside, the new aspect was more vital than everything else they assumed. It was more than just moving the rocks because damages would have happened.

Permanent Dam

A dam in Niagara
Contributor/Getty Images
Contributor/Getty Images

Upon realizing that removing the rocks would be a horrible thing to do, they went with building a permanent dam. Still, it wasn’t the best solution since the dam would weaken American Falls.

The engineers gave up on that idea as well, and in the end, they didn’t get rid of the bones nor build the dam. Was it all in vain? The answer to that is yes and no at the same time.