The anonymously filmed under-two-minutes Captain Nissen Going through Whirlpool Rapids, Niagara Falls (1901) is a wonderful record of an enclosed craft, looking rather submarine-like except for its chimney, designed to dare the roughest of waters of the Niagara River.
Two cameramen, names unreported, captured the action on 9 July 1900. The steam-powered ship was the smallest steam ship ever launched, but it didn't steam for long as its chimney was ripped off in the whirling waters, & Captain Nissen was damned lucky not to have become a cooked lobster at that point.
Though it's totally a newsreel documenting a stunt, the oddness of the craft gives the film a science ficton mood, like a scene out of a Tom Swift Senior book. The fact that Nissen survived had nothing to do with skill. He had no method of steering his craft & it took fifty minutes him to be rescued, wet, cold, & weak, but otherwise unharmed.
The wee film has no narration being completely silent, but an old Edison catalog says Captain Nissen's ship was amusingly christened "The Fool Killer" & was twenty-four feet long, four feet wide.
People had been risking their lives & frequently dying at the falls for a great long while in the name of stuntsmanship, but Peter Nissen was the first to have his dangerous tomfoolery recorded on film.
Nissen was actually a Chicago accountant who became a well known eccentric as well as inventing the Nissen Hut in use during WWI, the precursor to the Quonset Hut of WWII.
Four years after the event shown in this little Edison film, Nissen built his "Fool Killer III," a vehicle consisting of a thirty-two foot long balloon-wheel that would role over any landscape, land or water. It was a large model for a planned, even larger land-&-sea dirigible he intended to build for a trip to the North Pole.
Testing his folly, he tried to cross Lake Michigan during high winds, for his idea was that the rolling canvass balloon would be entirely wind-powered. Whenever the wind blew the wrong way he'd just toss out an anchor whether on land or in the water & wait for the wind direction to change.
Climbing into his rolling ball on 29 November 1904, he let the fifty-mile-an-hour winds carry him over Lake Michigan. His small audience watched the big canvas ball rolling off over the water, Nissen tumbling about inside, until the moronic vehicle vanished on the horizon.
Two days later & a hundred miles away, hunters on the opposite shore found the deflated remains of the bizarre vehicle. The battered body of Peter Nissen was frozen to death nearby. A more alarming tale could not be concocted by the cruelest commedian.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl