Niagara River Ice Bridge

The ice bridge on the Niagara River (Courtesy of the Niagara Falls Public Library)

Close Niagara River Ice Bridge

The ice bridge on the Niagara River (Courtesy of the Niagara Falls Public Library)

The Frozen American Falls

The American Falls frozen and the river around the Falls (Courtesy of the Niagara Falls Public Library)

Close The Frozen American Falls

The American Falls frozen and the river around the Falls (Courtesy of the Niagara Falls Public Library)

Historic ice bridge

People walking along the ice bridge to cross the border (Courtesy of the Niagara Falls Public Library)

Close Historic ice bridge

People walking along the ice bridge to cross the border (Courtesy of the Niagara Falls Public Library)

The Ice Bridge Disaster

February 4th 1912

By noon, approximately 35 people were standing on the “ice bridge”, which formed each winter over the Niagara River below the Falls. This ice bridge was wide and dense enough that it allowed people to cross the entire Niagara River from Canada to the United States on the surface of the ice rather than using the International Bridges located downstream. Two such persons on this ice bridge were Eldridge Stanton, age 32 and his wife Clara Stanton, age 38, both natives of Toronto, Ontario. The Stanton's had been married for six years and were regular visitors to Niagara Falls. They would come twice each year; once in summer and once in winter. They had arrived in Niagara Falls on Friday for a winter weekend visit. They strolled hand in hand as they crossed the ice field.

Also on the ice bridge were Ignatius Roth and Burrell Hecock, both age 17 and from Cleveland, Ohio, who were throwing snowballs and playing games. William "Red" Hill was opening the little refreshment stand he built every year as soon as the ice was thick enough. With him were Monroe Gilbert and William Lablond.

Hill suddenly felt a small tremor under his feet. At that same moment came a loud groaning sound from the base of the Falls which made roar of the distant Falls faint. Immediately Hill recognized the danger and began running towards the Canadian shore as he shouted for the others to follow him. Lablond, Gilbert and the boys followed Hill. Mr. and Mrs. Stanton turned back towards the American shore.

The ice bridge began heaving up and down, and breaking apart, as the grinding noises became louder. As the Stanton's were inches from the shore the ice separated and water appeared where the ice once was. As the gap began to widen, the Stanton's were frozen from shock for a second before turning and racing for the Canadian shore. As they ran, Clara Stanton began to slow and stumbled to the ice from exhaustion within 50 feet of the Canadian shoreline. Eldridge Stanton tried unsuccessfully to lift his wife. The ice block on which they were standing began to move. In desperation Stanton grabbed his wife and tried dragging her as he shouted for help from the men ahead.

Lablond was in waist deep icy water and with the assistance of Hill they pulled Roth to shore and shouted for Hecock to jump to safety. Hecock heard the cries for help from Stanton and turned around. Hecock rushed toward the Stanton's in a desperate attempt to save them. Hecock reached the Stanton's and helped Eldridge lift his wife to her feet. Together they tried to get Clara to shore but the gap between the ice and shore was quickly widening. The three were now stranded as the ice bridge flowed ever quickly downstream.

The ice sheet was swinging wildly. On this ice sheet, the Stanton's and Hecock paced back and forth. Hecock and Eldridge were seen talking while Clara stood holding her husband's hand. As they passed beneath the first of three bridges spanning the Niagara Gorge, the ice sheet seemed to edge towards the American shore. Directly downstream, a hydro-electric station was discharging water into the river. The pressure from this discharge crumbled the nearest edge of the ice forcing the three to the opposite side. The giant ice sheet broke into two pieces. One half drifted towards the American shore while the other half on which Hecock and the Stanton's stood remained in mid-stream. The first half grounded out against the American shoreline. On each of the two lower bridges located three hundred yards apart, firemen, policemen and railway workers had stationed themselves in order to lower ropes to those stranded as the passed underneath. Stanton was seen placing his arm around the waist of his wife. About a quarter mile before the rapids, the ice sheet broke in half again, this time separating the Stanton's from Hecock. Hecock waved and shouted something and Stanton returned the salute. Clara crouched down beside her husband. The river current was becoming faster as it neared the rapids.

Hecock's ice sheet remained in mid-stream. Hecock took off his coat in preparation of attempting to grab one of the dangling ropes. As he passed beneath the bridge, Hecock grabbed one of the ropes and swung free of the ice flow he was riding on. Hecock was plunged waist deep into the water as his rescuers attempted to lift him. As he was hoisted 60 feet above the water Hecock lost his grip of the rope and fell into the raging river below. After entering the rapids, Hecock was never seen again. The Stanton's had watched Hecock's valiant attempts. As the ice block swirled them under the Cantilever Bridge, Stanton quickly grabbed the nearest rope and looped it around his wife's waist. As the ice block continued downstream, the rope became weak and broke. Stanton grabbed another rope as they passed underneath the Lower Bridge. Once more, he quickly tied the rope around his wife's waist. Knowing the attempt would be futile; he immediately changed his mind and untied the rope. Stanton took his wife in his arms, kissed her and let her down. They both knelt together with his arms around her. The remaining piece of the ice bridge remained intact until it reached a giant wave in the rapids. It spilled over throwing both of them into the raging water to their deaths.