He describes this experience in far greater detail in his un-mailed account—but the details are basically the same. Now … a word in his defense. He was a strong swimmer—and later in his life swam every day in the ocean near his home in England. But the Niagara River? Just above the rapids and whirlpool? Could a person do that?
I wasn’t sure. So in early March 2000, I decided to take a drive to the Falls to find out. I planned the trip so I wouldn’t just be “Falls watching” (or thinking about leaping in—just to see); I wanted to do some research, too. Was there any record of Trelawny’s swim? Was there even any evidence of his presence there?
No and yes.
As I wrote long, long ago in these pages I was lucky, right away. Here’s what I wrote long ago: at the Niagara Falls Public Library … a couple of staff members found for me the 1833 guest register of the Eagle Hotel, and there I saw the signatures of “Capt. Trelawney” on July 18 and Fanny Kemble, the renowned actress from the famous theater family, who’d signed in the day before.
He was in Room 25 in the Eagle.
But in none of the local papers (there was more than one) could I find any reference to or account of Trelawny’s swim across the river—across and back—that he’d written about. I worked my way down to the riverside later in the day and took some pictures. And as I stood there while that mighty stream churned by, I had a single thought: No way. Even today, when the river has been subject to some engineering (for hydro-electric power), the current remains so swift, so daunting, that I don’t see how a person could make it across and back and alive.
I did find this on a Niagara Falls daredevil website: On October 1st 1957, Claus R. Kirkoff successfully swam through the Lower Rapids in an attempt to gain illegal entry into the United States of America, from which he had been previously deported.
Okay, but I still think of Trelawny’s account? No way! (My photos.)