The Old, Weird Niagara


From last Thursday's Wall Street Journal, here's the great reactionary radical (and reason contributor) Bill Kauffman on Ginger Strand's intriguing new book Inventing Niagara:

Ms. Strand's populist defense of the glorious disorder of the private Niagara Falls Museum is of a piece with her appreciation of the falls as God and nature intended them to be. But just as the five-story museum was leveled by the New York State parks authority and replaced by a parking lot, so have the falls, in Ms. Strand's words, been "manicured, repaired, landscaped and artificially lit, dangerous overhangs dynamited off and water flow managed to suit the tourist schedule." One can't help noticing that the "improvements" Ms. Strand deplores were almost entirely the work of government. Those overhangs were blown off by the Army Corps of Engineers, which has trimmed, blasted, dammed and fortified this natural wonder and its river. State, not commerce, was unable to leave well enough alone.

As an American patriot, I've long been ashamed of the fact that Niagara's greatest attraction, the uncanny Criminals Hall of Fame Wax Museum, rests on the Canadian side of the falls. And as Kauffman notes, we can thank the bulldozers of the vile Robert Moses, among other government villains, for the destruction of "the carnival-barker spirit that once gave the city brass, if not class."

Whole thing here.

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  1. Best quote about Niagara Falls:

    “Fortissimo at last!”
    – Gustav Mahler

  2. Mahler is a hero of mine.

    Did he really say that (about Niagra Falls?)…

  3. shrike,

    Well, it’s an anecdote, so it should be taken as such. This NYT article has the same quote.

    And yeah, Mahler = probably the best symphonist since Beethoven (I don’t dig Bruckner too much). Even Shostakovich produced a fair share of garbage.

  4. Isn’t Niagara’s greatest attraction, eh, the Falls?

  5. Yhey, did somebody say, “Niagara Falls”? Slowly I turned, inch by inch, step by step,…

  6. Syd,

    You’re right. I think Mr. Root was just pissed that he’s never visited the falls and fulfilling a childhood fantasy of his by mentioning the wax museum (an oxymoron, if you ask me).

    Uhh… just so you know, I kid half of the time.

  7. Someday I should visit these famous IVi@gara Falls. Seems like I get a message about them in my e-mail in-box ‘most every day.

    Someday I’m going to visit the Ci@!is Falls too.

  8. You have *no* idea how bad it’s gotten there.

    The city of my birth, Niagara Falls NY. It’s dying an ugly, ugly death.

    My parents still live there even as businesses have failed, industry died out, people have moved out, the city government is corrupt on a scale that would make a Chicago politician blush, and as we grew up, we all moved away. The biggest business is a chemical/hazardous material dump. Rusted abandoned chemical plants from Union Carbide, abandoned Mills Paper, etc. Look at Google Maps along the Robert Moses Parkway at the decay. Downtown is dead, the border is now fortified and keeps tourists from the Canadian side away with long lines at the border and requirements for passports. Even with the worthless US dollar should have Canadians coming in droves, many rarely brave the crossing for the hassle.

    The city is a now just old whites and young poor black. And the Indian-owned casino racks in their money hand over fist without any business spilling over into secondary businesses. It’s Atlantic City writ small.

    It’s too depressing.

  9. Doc,

    Would you care to elaborate on that? When you say failed businesses and industries, are you talking about traditional (mostly manufacturing) ones? I’m just curious as to whether your hometown’s decline has other culprits than the usual ones of technological advance and globalization.

  10. all of the “improvements” complained about pale in comparison with the fact that 50% of the water flow is diverted for hydroelectrical power production. should we not produce any power then? or should we pretend that a totally unregulated utility would not have diverted half the water from the falls? i really don’t understand the point here at all.

  11. Tamed or not, I love Niagara. Canada’s got the view, for sure, and the best wacky attractions.
    But the greatest of all is the Cave of the Winds on the N.Y. side. Not wacky at all – you walk out on wooden stairs actually into the edge of the falls. You can go out on a catwalk in your slicker and feel Niagara pound you. It’s just a tiny bit of water, in comparison. But standing there, it’s like you’re under God’s own firehose.
    I don’t know how they can get the insurance.

  12. And yeah, Mahler = probably the best symphonist since Beethoven (I don’t dig Bruckner too much). Even Shostakovich produced a fair share of garbage.

    Now this reply is a labour of love – instead of bickering about politics!

    I love Bruckner – I see granite monuments. I see repetitive isolation. I see a lonely old fool counting tones. Bruckner was/is a personal triumph culled out of desperation.

    Mahler? No fair. Sheer genius. Nature summoned to grandeur. From the personal to the godlike.

    Shostakovich? Steel cold buildings and sharp edges. Great scaffolding on harried presumption. I love the 5th. And the string quartets…..

    I love the Stones and Tom Waits too….

    This is my forte./

  13. Went to Niagara for the first time last summer. The NY side is a dump as far as the town goes but it does offer you the ability to stand right over the falls. The Canadian side is lovely and it has a couple of casinos when you get tired of staring at the falls. I was there for labor/labour day and it only took me about a half hour to cross so I don’t think increased border hassles should be keeping too many people from crossing.

    Definitely something you should see once in your life if you get the chance. It was a lot more impressive than I imagined before I went.

  14. Pepe – Sounds like you enjoyed your trip. I await the day when I’ll be able to shout “fortissimo!” myself.

    Citizen Nothing – Thanks for the info.


    Yes, indeed. It’s nice to do something besides bickering about politics once in a while. And you described those 3 dead white males pretty well. My beef with Bruckner is that, as you pointed out, he didn’t seem very keen to show off his orchestra. I mean, dude, if you’ve got a full-size band to spare, why not use it for some cataclysmic gestures, like Mahler? His music is kinda like Wagner’s (at least for me): certainly great, but not something I’d listen to over and over often. (As you know, Bruckner worshiped Wagner second only to God.)

    As for Shostakovich, I like his sardonic humor and his ability to show without any cute gimmicks that the past is the present. More importantly, though, the guy could actually write tunes, unlike many others from the last century. And I think you already know my views on Mahler.

    You also mentioned the Stones and Tom Waits. I’ll grant that the Stones deserve the title of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band, but I also think that the Beatles will outlast them in the long run. Mick’s band just don’t have the same level of popular appeal as John and Paul’s. And I frankly haven’t listened to much Tom Waits; it’s one of the (many) things I plan to do eventually.

  15. NP,

    Hard to say really. Much really does have to do with changes in industry, what is made and where. The need for new facilities, companies choosing not to sell their old industrial sites since they’d have to clean them up first. Cheaper to let their rusted skeletons sit until gov’t concessions/buyouts. Dow, Hooker Chemical, good o’l Love Canal all legacies of the mid 20th century.

    Something it really was the decision a century ago for NF, NY to go the industrial route. Take advantage of the cheaper power, tourism was a skeevy business at best there (high wire walkers, old ships with live animals set ablaze and plunged over the falls…you know, old fashion enterainment). Fast forward to our ever increasing service economy.

    The local gov’t is hopelessly corrupt (enjoy the local area’s version of the NY Post, the Niagara Falls Reporter: ). Famous boondoggles include a gov’t financed ‘Water Park’. Outside. Away from the falls. Any idea how cold it is much of the year there?

    Nothing new ever came there, so desperate attempts were made to hold on to what was there. The companies took the money and *still* left. Then the Casino, which promised not to build hotels so that those local businesses would still get customers. Then the Casino put up it’s big hotel. Now they want to build another Casino in Buffalo. I’m sure it will do wonders for that, better off but still hurting city.

    The roads are a mess, my parents are lucky if a snow plough comes around with less then 6″ of snow. Property tax rates went up last year after they said there hadn’t been a reassessment in years. So this year they do the reassessment and stick with the higher rates.

    The Casino does well, the mountainous (no lie, it’s a giant green mountain in the town of Niagara) hazardous waste dump (complete with a few trees on the sides and ‘pretend’ picnic tables that no human could or would want to use since you have to cross a highway and security fence.

    No legitimate business is moving in. Plenty of schuysters (sp?) come in and get gov’t money/concessions/tax abatements (make the property owners cough up some more!) and they’re out of there quickly. And what company is going to come in there with the ‘working pool’ left in the city? Undereducated or too old it’s not going to be Boeing! Clinton lobbied to keep the Air Force Reserve base open for a while longer. But that’s barest of life support.

    Problem is, much of upstate NY is in a similar pickle. I’ve not no clue how to turn it around. It never will be what it once was. The best they could do I imagine is make it a sort of Schengen-like area where the boarder would be more open in that area to permit tourists to come over without a 90-120 minute wait and strip search and spend the now valuable Canadian dollar on sites, hotels, restaurants, etc. Some sort of better run service economy.

  16. Doc,

    Thanks for your very informative response. It’s hard to pick a “favorite” out of your laundry list, but one’s gotta love this part:

    Famous boondoggles include a gov’t financed ‘Water Park’. Outside. Away from the falls. Any idea how cold it is much of the year there?

    Simply amazing. I’m certainly no policy wonk so I haven’t a clue how to turn the situation around, either. I suppose, as you suggested, a better service economy would help. And a better local government. (Yeah, I know. A depressing thought.)

  17. so thats why the US side sucks balls…

  18. I don’t see how hotels would be a bad thing, Doc. Wouldn’t guests bring business to shops and restaurants around them? I work at a hotel and every five minutes I’m asked what place is best to eat or where can I buy this sundry item or what is there to do around here. Granted I work in a four-star hotel in the middle of a downtown area, but I would imagine guests in lower level hotels still have some cash to spend on food, toiletries, and entertainment.

  19. Zoltan, Agreed, the hotels play an important part of the tourist industry. But there is no downtown area anymore to wander. They’d be more likely mugged or bummed for money. The hotels are scattered around and none on the high end. They’re just as decayed as the city (one even made tripadvisor’s top 10 dirtiest hotels this year!).

    The casino’s hotel is better but the people staying there aren’t venturing out of the casino megaplex of gambling, restaurant, spa, shops. Those dollars stay in that building and don’t make it into the surroundings. Lower star hotels bring lower paying people, who still buy things. But it’s not enough to support a city.

  20. One more thing, with a tourist season primarily of Memorial Day to Labor Day, the nearly 9 months of off season does awful things to businesses.

    The largest city near the Falls is Toronto about 90 minutes away. Canadians cross for tourist sites (if they cross at all) but stay at the nicer hotels on the Canadian side. The inertia is all against the NY side. 🙁

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