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Take a spectacular and potentially dangerous scenic attraction, add people, stir well, and there's no telling what sort of drama life will cook up. The first ingredient could well be right in our own backyard, here in Rochester. The Genesee River gorge north of Main Street has provided a full range of drama.

Almost every year someone climbing around in the gorge miscalculates the danger and loses their life. The result is tragedy, especially for the surviving family and friends. Substitute a world-renowned daredevil, purposely risking his life for the glory of it, like Sam Patch on November 13, 1829, and the result changes. It's often recounted how Sam, courting fate and big bucks, leaped from a platform 116 feet above the river and was found washed up downstream the following spring. The result? Close to mythology.

** Plug in a former jailbird (that's another story) and founder of a college and the result can make for interesting speculation. On May 15th, 1826, Rensselaer College (later RPI) geology professor Amos Eaton, who was leading a number of students on a field trip across the state by way of the recently completed Erie Canal, stopped at the gorge to examine the rock strata comprising the walls. According to student Asa Fitch's diary, Eaton was stricken by a fainting spell and began hallucinating. After some medical attention and rest he snapped out of it. What did the good professor hallucinate about? Did he perhaps see decades into the future, see explanations found that he could have not predicted. Perhaps seen continents colliding, mile high glaciers crossing the ground beneath his feet, vast inland lakes swarming with life? Probably not. Still? **

Insert a local showman and character, and the result becomes farce. Peter Gruber, known far and wide as Rattlesnake Pete, was a Rochester institution. His combination saloon and museum of curiosities on Mill Street drew loafers, celebrities and working stiffs in large numbers, to see his mechanical toys, his pipe that had belonged to John Wilkes Booth, his purported first electric chair and especially his rattlesnakes, all caught by Pete himself. His snake hunts were legendary over a large area and finally, according to Henry Clune, in Main Street Beat, someone suggested that such an expedition should be captured for posterity. A customer had one of the new motion-picture cameras, and a film crew of eager volunteers was recruited. Lunch was promised. And beer. For after the hunt. Pete brought several boxes of his own reptiles, in case local talent should prove to be unavailable. Then someone suggested it might be best to drink the beer first, before it warmed up. The camera wasn't the only things well-lubricated by the time the valiant crew reached the bottom of the gorge. It was impressed on the the first-time thespians that they were to pretend fear while still staying in camera range. Pete dumped out several of his stars onto the ground. There was no need to holler "Action". To some of the rather unsteady actors, the three or four rattlers (actually they were stand-ins, harmless black snakes) suddenly became a slithering, slavering mass, even the pink ones, and the blue ones, and the orange ones. Not to mention the plaid ones. It's likely, if you know where to look, that the claw marks on the side of the gorge may still be found there today. Pete corraled his repltilian cast, then pulled out a flask, pulled up a rock, and sat down. He shook his head, uttered a mild curse and dcclared, "what a Roman army them guys are. They eat, drink, and run away." But he held no grudges. Everyone dragged themselves back to Mill Street and Pete stood a round of drinks. More fun ensued when someone knocked over the snake boxes. Which opened. We'll go to a slow fade here.

For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor

© 1999 David Minor / Eagles Byte