Over a century ago,the 80-foot-long scow was dredging for a tugboat along the Niagara River, upstream from Niagara Falls. But when the boat ran aground on a sandbar, the steel cable connecting the two snapped, sending the scow — and its two crewmen — hurtling.
Tossed between the rapids, the scow hit a shelving rock and jolted to a stop, a mere third of a mile from the 167-foot drop of Horseshoe Falls.
The fate of the two men, James Harris and Gustav Lofberg, rested on an American and Canadian rescue team that coalesced about 650 feet from the scow on the Canadian shore.
From the roof of a powerhouse, rescuers shot a rope line to the boat from a cannon and constructed a pulley system. Then they attached a breeches buoy, or a canvas sling, to the pulley, which they hoped could carry the men ashore.
It was a risky gambit: The strain on the line from the first man to cross might have pulled the scow from its ledge and sent it plunging over the falls.
As darkness fell, and a knot in the pulley’s ropes blocked the buoy from the marooned men, the rescue team abandoned its efforts for the evening. But the rescuers erected a large electrical sign to comfort Mr. Harris and Mr. Lofberg through the night, according to news reports at the time. It read, “REST.”
The next morning, after a Canadian volunteer, William “Red” Hill Sr., braved a trip across the pulley to untangle its ropes midair, the buoy finally reached the scow.
Onlookers saw a scuffle break out between the two men, according to news reports, until Mr. Harris climbed into the buoy. As the rescue team pulled him to safety, the line sagged into the unforgiving rapids a half-dozen times, soaking Mr. Harris.
When he reached land, the sailor gasped for air.
“Get the buoy back as quick as you can,” he told the rescue team, according to The New York Sun. “That damn fool Lofberg said he was the skipper and I’d have to come ashore first.”
The team sent the buoy to Mr. Lofberg, whom they pulled to shore.
The iron scow they left behind remained lodged among the rocks, reminding residents of the feat and their ancestors’ bravery.
But if the scow dislodges from its new location, Mr. Adames warns it could wind up behind Horseshoe Falls’ base, and out of sight.