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Imagining Niagara: The Meaning and Making of Niagara Falls

Imagining Niagara: The Meaning and Making of Niagara Falls - Patrick Vincent Mcgreevy Today, Niagara Falls is mostly synonymous with campy honeymoon suite theme motels. Its past is more illustrious. The Indians and first European explorers (Hennepin, etc) stood in awe of the majestic and powerful waterfall. It was an 18th century icon symbolic of the breathtaking might of nature and the Creator. As Western New York become more populated, and leisure travel increased in the mid 1800's, daredevels put on shows defying the Falls... walking above them on tight ropes, or going over in barrels. The idea of defying death, or in some cases of falling victim to the power of the Falls, shifted this image. Death, and in particular suicide, became part of the new character of Niagara Falls. Later, in the late 1800's and early 1900's, came the first inkling of the potential of hydroelectric power. Niagara was the first hydroelectric plant, powering the first electrically lit cities: Buffalo NY, and Pittsburgh PA. From this, the image of Niagara shifted to become representational of the wonders of technology and the endless possibilities of the future. That's where the author ends, but I would say that we are now in a fourth age of Niagara. After the 1970's Love Canal ecologic disaster, and as the entire Rust Belt continues to decline, Niagara Falls has become a symbol of environmental irresponsibility and economic decay. That is a negative way to end the book, because Niagara, and indeed all of Western New York could be a wonderful, beautiful place to live. It has been badly mismanaged, and the region needs to put its political/economic house in order, but Niagara has everything it needs to return to its earlier grandeur.