Script No. 81

This very minute you may be on your way to spend the holiday at a canal, river or lake, or perhaps you're already at one. For years now Independence Day and water have been closely linked.

In 1817 Governor De Witt Clinton broke ground at Rome, New York, for the construction of the Erie Canal. The patriotic symbolism was not lost on other canal builders. Eight years later, the same year the Erie was completed, July fourth was chosen to begin construction on Connecticut's Farmington Canal, which paralelled the Connecticut River from Massachusetts to Long Island Sound. On the same day in 1827 the Ohio and Erie Canal was opened to traffic. Fourth of July 1829 was chosen for the completion of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, and in 1837 was again picked as the date to open Ohio's Miami and Erie Canal. All of this was quite effeicient; politicians could combine their Independence Day orations with their "new day for the citizens of our fair state" speeches.

Other water-related events happened on this date. In 1842 the Croton Aqueduct System first brought water to New York City from Westchester County. Another water system came online in 1894 when municipal water flowed from Lake Skaneatles to Syracuse for the first time. Boat racing fans had their fun earlier in 1870 as the steamboats Robert E. Lee and Natchez raced each other from New Orleans to St Louis. Those waiting on the levee saw the Robert E. Lee victorious, as it completed the journey in 90 hours and 14 minutes.

Another popular Independence Day destination was Niagara Falls, especially for daredevils. In 1928 Jean Lussier went bouncing over the Horseshoe Falls inside a rubber ball. Riverman Red Hill rowed out and hauled the ball to shore, where it was cut open. Lussier was taken out, bruised, bloody, but alive.

In 1930 Hill's services were required again as two more daredevils went over - one human and one reptilian. The human was a short order cook/kook and self proclaimed mystic named George Stathakis, who wanted to launch a literary career with proceeds from his stunt. He actually took the plunge, so to speak, the day after July Fourth. Hill, who would recover 277 bodies from the Niagara, as well as rescue wild swans swept over the cataract, tried to talk Stathakis out of it, but to no avail. The cook also planned to carry a 105-year-old tortoise named Sonny Boy in the barrel with him, explaining the turtle would be able to tell the public about the ride should his master not survive. The body of George Stathakis was removed from the barrel hours later. Sonny Boy survived the stunt and continued his career in show biz. Hill put him on display and Sonny went on to survive a turtlenapping and ensuing chase and rescue. But, for the rest of his life, Sonny Boy kept his beak shut.

OUTRO: For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor.

Copyright 1998 David Minor / Eagles Byte