Charles Stephens was a 58 year old barber from Bristol, England where he had acquired a reputation of daredevil through a number of high dives and several parachute jumps. In Bristol, England he was known as the “Demon Barber of Bristol”.
On July 11th 1920, Charles Stephens came to Niagara Falls to conquer the Niagara River. In his first stunt he planned to go over the Horseshoe Falls in a barrel made from Russian oak. Bobby Leach, advised Stephens not to make his journey until the barrel was perfected. Stephens brushed off his advice because he thought Leach did not want him to be a success similar to himself (Leach) and Annie Taylor. Leached asked William “Red” Hill Sr. to speak to Stephens.
Upon the request by Leach, Hill Sr. suggested that Stephens send the barrel over the Falls unoccupied, as a test. Stephens was a stubborn man who strongly disagreed with this idea and decided to carry out with his plans. The barrel was heavy and was designed with straps for Stephens’ arms. As means for steering, Stephens strapped an anvil to his feet. He was unenthusiastically persuaded to take a small tank of oxygen with him and he wore only padded clothing.
While attempting to perform this feat with no police interference, Leach, Hill Sr. and a small fanfare looked on in amazement and horror at 8:15am. Stephens left from Snyder’s point located about 5 km upstream from the Falls. Leach, with fear of certain tragedy, left before Stephens went over the brink at 8:55 a.m. When the huge barrel hit the water at the base of the waterfall, the anvil which was tied to Stephens’ feet was propelled through the bottom of the barrel taking Stephens to his death.
The remnants of the barrel remained trapped at the base of the Falls until its iron rings broke away. When the debris was recovered, only the tattooed right arm of Stephens was still strapped in the harness.
Stephens arm is buried in an unmarked grave at Drummond Hill Cemetery in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Charles Stephens became famous for being the first of the barrel daredevils to die challenging the Falls.