Charles Darwin at a green chalkboard.

1994 Darwin Awards

Honoring Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, Darwin Awards commemorate those who improve our gene pool--by removing themselves from it in the most spectacular way possible.

Bottom of the Barrel
1994 Darwin Award Winner
Confirmed True by Darwin

(11 July 1920, Niagara Falls) To support his wife and 11 children, Charles Stephens, 58-year-old "Demon Barber of Bristol," needed more money than he could make giving shaves and haircuts. Even his sideline as a daredevil, performing high dives and parachute jumps in England, barely helped cover the bills. He needed something big, something to make his reputation. There was nothing bigger and more daredevil-ish than going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Only two people had ever done it, and lived [check fact].

It didn't matter that one, Annie Taylor, was living in abject poverty or that the other, Bobby Leach, was trying to talk him out of using his heavy Russian oak barrel without first sending it on a test run. Leach's friend, William "Red" Hill, a daredevil whose sideline was rescuing people from Niagara's treacherous waters, also tried to dissuade Charles.

But Charles believed that if he strapped his arms to the side of the barrel and his feet to a large anvil as ballast, he would pop up out of the foam at the bottom of the cataract, safe, and right side up. He knew what he was doing and he was going to do it.

He launched his ungainly craft early one morning, and floated minutes through the rapids toward Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side. 45 minutes after launch, the heavy barrel flew over the brink of the falls. So far, so good. But when Charles hit the water below, the anvil plunged through the bottom of the barrel, carrying most of Charles to the bottom with it. The barrel became stuck behind the falls. It wasn't until much later that the barrel's battered remains floated out into the mist. Attached was Charles' right arm, still strapped down, with his tattoo visible: "Don't Forget Me Annie."

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Submitted by: Peter Jeuck

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