How Going Over Niagara Works

Nathan Boya, 1961

One of the first (and maybe the only) to go over the Falls without hoping for fame and fortune was Nathan Boya (also known as William Fitzgerald). Nathan was 30 years old and from the Bronx in New York. It was 1961, and he was the first African American to go over the Falls. His reason for going over? Just something he had to do...

His barrel -- or ball, actually -- was similar to the rubber ball that successfully took Jean Lussier over the Falls in 1928. Nathan's ball, however, was a steel sphere wrapped in six-ply rubber, over which was a sheet of metal and then another layer of rubber. Recognizing that the airtight ball would hold little air, Nathan included an air tank that would provide him oxygen for 30 hours. He even met with Jean Lussier, who recommended he take additional air as well as a device called a rebreather that would remove poisonous carbon dioxide.

Nathan's trip over the falls could have turned out badly because, once in the river, the current began carrying him to the American Falls rather than the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. After being towed to the Horseshoe Falls, Nathan's craft, named the Plunge-O-Sphere (with a banner saying, "Step from your Pit of Darkness, into the Light-Dell") plunged over the edge. Except for a bounce on the rocks resulting in a dent in "The Ball," Nathan and his craft emerged unscathed. He was fined $100 and had to pay $13 in court costs for violating the Niagara Parks Act that made going over the Falls as a stunt illegal without permission (permission has yet to be granted to anyone since the law became effective after the death of William Hill, Jr.)

His alias, William Fitzgerald, made him into somewhat of a mystery man. While he claimed he was self-employed, it was reported that he was a maintenance man at IBM headquarters in New York. He later became a doctor of sociology and then earned a post-doctorate degree in medical behavior.