Today even if an ice bridge were to form below the falls it is now illegal to venture out on one. Ice bridges, although appearing safe can actually break apart rather quickly, and lives can be lost. Perhaps the most tragic of all ice bridge mishaps occurred in February of 1912.
That day saw a wave of flurry on the ice bridge as spectators and visitors braved the early morning cold to take in the winter wonderland.
Red Hill Sr. was on the ice bridge that day, selling his wares from a shanty that he had built on the ice. By lunch time most of the crowd had left but about two dozen or so remained on the ice.
Two teenage boys from Cleveland, Ignatius Roth and Burrell Hecock, both seventeen were playing on the ice when they encountered a couple from Toronto. The couples’ names were Clara and Eldridge Stanton.
The Stantons were well known in the Toronto community. Mr. Stanton owned a profitable stationery company in Toronto. He was also quite musical and performed in operas at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto. His lovely wife Clara was an avid photographer. The couple had visited Niagara regularly since their wedding several years before, however this was their first winter visit and Clara was excited about photographing the mighty falls in the winter time.
The Stantons encountered the boys from Cleveland that afternoon and exchanged pleasantries. Mrs. Stanton offered to photograph the boys. It was around noon when several spectators peering into the gorge from above noticed the ice begin to move.
When the loose ice came into contact with the ice bridge, it caused the bridge to fracture and rise. Red Hill, sitting in his shanty immediately recognized the impending danger and sprang to action. He cried to the nearest tourists to follow him and helped several to the Canadian shore.
Realizing that several people were still out on the ice he returned to the ice pack and valiantly tried to encourage the Stantons to follow him back to shore. The Stantons, either out of fear or indecision did not follow Hill’s orders and instead tried to retreat to the American side where they found their path no longer there.
Hearing their cries for help were Roth and Hecock, the two Cleveland boys, still somewhat oblivious of the impending danger.
All four quickly found themselves on an ice flow, headed towards the Whirlpool Rapids. Eventually the ice pack that the four were traveling on broke apart and Roth found himself alone, stranded on a small ice flow.
It did not take long for word of the looming disaster to reach both the Canadian and American shores. Throngs of would be rescuers turned out along both banks. Red Hill still watching and realizing the plight of the four saw a chance to save Roth.
He ran along the shore, checking for the best possible route of escape and yelled instructions to the frightened boy who was 150 ft out in the river. Roth, heeding the men’s commands leapt from ice floe to ice floe until he was within fifteen feet of the Canadian shore. It was then that Red Hill threw a rope out to the exhausted boy and helped him make his way in the freezing waters to shore.
Even horse drawn carriages managed to make their way to the bottom of the falls. Notice the people descending down the frozen American Falls