A barge-like boat that’s been stranded in the same spot, mid-river above Niagara Falls, for more than 100 years broke free on Oct. 31. The vessel, now lodged 160 feet closer to the falls, has captured the public’s attention, in part because no one knows if or when it could move again.
The boat’s abrupt but brief journey has also reignited the tale of a heroic rescue that took place a century ago, when it first became stranded.
In August 1918, two employees of the Great Lakes Dredge and Docks Company were aboard a steel-bottomed sand scow that was being towed by a tugboat on the American side of the Niagara River. Gustave Loftberg and Frank Harris were performing dredging operations near the entrance to the Niagara Falls Power Company hydraulic canal when the towing rope snapped.
The deckhands faced almost certain demise as the 80-foot barge careened toward the Horseshoe Falls in the swift current. But the scow came to a sudden halt when it became lodged on a rock shoal less than half a mile from the raging falls.
Word of the deckhands’ peril spread quickly, and hundreds of volunteers from both the American and Canadian sides of Niagara Falls as well as the U.S. Coast Guard gathered to attempt to rescue the men. Largely thanks to the selfless bravery of a man named William “Red” Hill, Sr., a volunteer from Canada who risked his own life to reach them, Loftberg and Harris were brought safely to shore after 13 hours.
During the harrowing rescue, everyone worried that the scow would break loose from the shoal without warning, sending the men plummeting to their deaths. However, the barge didn’t budge. In fact, it remained in the same spot for more than a century.
Nicknamed “The Iron Scow” and “The Niagara Scow,” the barge became a fixture of the Falls. The Niagara Parks Department commemorated the centenary of the rescue by presenting a plaque and panels sharing the history of the scow.
However, severe weather conditions on Halloween finally caused the scow to scoot.
Although it was still lodged in the upper rapids, it turned its position, shifting downriver toward the Falls. Niagara Parks documented the scow’s move and its history in this clip from their YouTube channel:
Authorities are closely monitoring the boat to determine whether an intervention will become necessary. The future of the now-legendary scow remains to be seen.