The Thing by Bill Hamilton

William “Red” Hill Jr and “The Thing” in which he went over the Horseshoe Falls to his death. Photo by Ron Roels. Used by permission of Niagara Falls Public Library

Rapids rage, in furrows to their end and fall,
Off the edge, as if dropping off the face of the earth
And thunder resonates, as foam and mist rise,
Into nature’s cauldron, that churns and abounds.

A family possessed with this mighty river,
Gain fame meeting its constant challenge
Traversing the worst of treacherous rapids
Yet needing to conquer the Cataracts alone.

Their barrels, carrying father and son,
Each defied those waters several times,
Passing through the swirling whirlpool,
Wallowing in the cheers of their success.

Immersed in steel barrels, over they rolled
The tumultuous waves bob them like cork
Captive prisoners’ to nature’s full wrath,
Death looms in those currents…beware!

Father dies and son now takes the torch,
Family honor means pay forward the promise.
The ultimate challenge of Niagara looms,
Over the falls is his next ride to glory.

His commitment made, one year hence
Work starts on his device to conquer.
Inner tubes netted securely with rope,
Named “The Thing”, standing beside it proud.

The August day comes, glory will now, be his.
His crew readies him for his timely journey.
One last wave he enters his creation.
Capped, the darkness opens his mind.

Visions of glory mask the fear he felt.
His vessel rides the rapids, weaving waves,
He rides the path, to the brink, of his desire.
Soon the deafening thunder; he knows he’s close!

A sudden surge and he vanishes in white
His stomach drops with a deadly plunge
And darkened silence brings the end,
To a promise, broken, by a son who dared.

A mother’s cry on the quiet shore of rock
“Where’s my boy what’s happened?”
Brothers scramble to find their daring sibling,
In the waters, churning cold, before them.

Remnants of rubber and frayed broken rope
Leave no doubt as the fate of Red Hill Jr.
Swallowed by a watery tomb, his nemesis.
A day later he is washed to familiar arms.

What tragic price this thing we call honor.
The need to challenge what nature creates.
A family possessed by a river so cruel
Close, but never fulfilling their ultimate goal.

Rapids rage in furrows to their end and fall,
Off the edge as if dropping off the face of the earth
And thunder resonates, as foam and mist rise,
Into nature’s cauldron, that churns and abounds.

A note from Bill Hamilton:

In 1951 Wm. Red Hill Jr. created a barrel-like vessel using large inner tubes surrounded by canvas and secured by netting.  He named this contraption “The Thing”.  His mission, honor a Hill family promise, to ride this device over Niagara Falls. On August 5th he climbed into his creation and was released to his fate. Needless to say, his plight ended in tragedy.  The loss of a son and brother to the Thunderous Cataracts of Niagara!

I own the Red Hill Estate including the 3 Hill daredevil barrels currently on display at the IMAX theatre.

Biography of Bill Hamilton:

My interest in writing started in University at Waterloo. Reactivated by the NOTL Writer’s Circle I have had several of my works published. Poetry is my main passion and my poem “Angel’s Ghost” hangs in Ontario’s oldest tavern the “Angel Inn” in Niagara on the Lake.  I am currently working on an anthology of poetry for publication.

My poem “The Thing” was a topic of interest, as I own the Red Hill estate barrels on display at the IMAX Theatre here in Niagara. I grew up with stories of the many Daredevils of Niagara, which inspired this poem.