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In 1969, the US side of Niagara Falls was “turned off” by engineers who blocked the river for six months to examine and assess the boulders at the base of the falls. This was the first time in 12,000 years that the falls were stopped, and two bodies were found along with numerous coins. Although many tourists came to see the bare cliff, they did not stay long. Engineers concluded in 1974 that the boulders were necessary to support the falls. Despite being stabilized, the American side of the falls continues to erode and may disappear in 15,000 years.
50 years ago, the US Army ‘turned off’ Niagara Falls to study its bottom: how it was
According to The New York Times, in 1969 the Niagara River surged over the falls again after being cut off for six months. The engineers blocked the river to examine the boulders at the base of the falls and see if they could be removed. While it was blocked, two bodies were found, as well as countless coins. The publication Business Insider told why, after 12,000 years, the famous waterfall was “turned off”.
About 12,000 years ago, Niagara Falls formed when a new course, now known as the Niagara River, joined between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. The falls are at the bend where the Niagara River turns north about 90 degrees.
Niagara Falls is divided into Canadian Falls, aka Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and Veil Falls. The most impressive of the waterfalls is undoubtedly the Horseshoe Falls.
Niagara Falls has been a popular tourist destination since the 17th century.
In 1842, the writer Charles Dickens described his visit there. He wrote: “I felt as if I were standing very close to the Creator.”
For centuries, people have visited the falls and some have even jumped from there. There were also some strange incidents. For example, the hotel owner who sent a ship full of animals down a waterfall killing everyone but a goose.
But on June 12, 1969, something unusual happened directly to the water. For the first time in 12,000 years, the US side of the waterfall was turned off.
Where 45 million gallons of water used to fall 11 stories every minute, suddenly there was only a trickle. Only the cliff remained—and not a particularly spectacular cliff.
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One tourist who came from San Francisco, California to look at it complained, “I thought they were going to turn it off completely.”
The US Army Corps of Engineers dropped 27,000 tons of rock upstream to block the Niagara River. The plan was to spend six months evaluating the pile of boulders at the bottom of the falls and whether they could be removed.
A pile of boulders had accumulated at the foot of the falls for years. Sometimes this happened quickly, as in 1931, when about 76,000 tons of rock broke off from the base, or in 1954, when 185,000 tons broke off.
The boulders were considered unsightly, and the authorities feared that if left long enough, the falls might become little more than rapids.
The Corps of Engineers was tasked with figuring out how to save the falls.
According to The New York Times, the day after the falls were turned off, there was a “terrible commotion” after the two bodies were found.
One of them was a man who had been seen jumping into a waterfall the day before, and the other was a woman who had recently gone missing.
A lot of coins were also found, which people threw into the waterfall over the years.
On the first weekend in June, more than 100,000 people came to see the waterless waterfall. This was twice as many as on the same weekend in 2022.
Tourists asked two questions: “Why was it turned off?” and “How long will it be off?”
But after initial hopes that tourism wouldn’t be affected, it soon became clear that when people came to see the bare cliff, they didn’t stay long.
Over the next five months, engineers examined the bed of boulders before concluding in 1974 that the boulders were indeed necessary to support the falls.
American Falls Council International, which wrote the report, said it opposed their removal.
“It seems completely wrong to make a waterfall static and unnatural, like an artificial waterfall in a garden or park, no matter how grandiose it may be,” the report says.
But it wasn’t a waste of time.
While the falls were stopped, the engineers secured the rocks with bolts to make the area as stable as possible.
But even before all this, on March 29, 1848, Niagara Falls was already turning off, and on its own. He just dried up.
The winter of 1847-1848 was unusually cold, and Lake Erie was covered with a thick layer of ice. In early spring, an ice jam formed in the upper reaches of the Niagara, forming an impenetrable dam. In the early morning of March 29, the inhabitants of the settlements near the waterfall woke up from an unusual silence – instead of a powerful stream, thin streams of water flowed over the edge of the ledge, and the bottom of the river was exposed. This is the only known case when the waterfall dried up due to natural causes.
On November 25, 1969, at 09:55, a crowd of several hundred people gathered to watch a crane dig a hole in the dam to allow water to flow again. An hour later, the rocks turned into seething rapids, and the water rushed over the waterfall, spewing a thin white mist. The waterfall is back.
Not that everyone was impressed. One of the passers-by said: “Just think, it’s flowing again.”
The second objected to him: “Isn’t this something? They tamed him, and now they’re releasing him.”
The other man was very impatient about it all. He said the project was “one hell of a scam – if God wants a waterfall to turn into a threshold, that’s how it should be.”
And this person may still be right. The American side of the falls continues to change and collapse, albeit less than before. It now loses about 4 inches (10 cm) every decade from what used to be about 13 feet (4 m) a year.
The waterfall is expected to simply disappear in about 15,000 years.
It is also likely that at some point the waterfalls may be turned off again. There are plans to repair several bridges connecting New York to an island called Goth Island. But there is no confirmed date yet for when that will happen.
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