24 October: On this day in history

What events happened on 24 October in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…

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24 October 1901: Annie Edson Taylor conquers Niagara Falls

A 63-year-old woman travels over the falls in a barrel… and lives to tell the tale

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When planning birthday celebrations, a ride in a barrel over Niagara Falls is probably furthest from most people’s minds.

But that was precisely how Annie Edson Taylor spent her 63rd birthday, which fell on 24 October 1901. Broke, and facing life in the poorhouse, Annie made a last desperate gamble. She would become the first person to travel over North America’s most celebrated waterfalls in a barrel.

On the morning of the big day, thousands gathered to watch her feat. Most doubted she would survive, even though an experiment two days earlier – which involved a cat rather than a human – had proved a success. Annie duly got into her barrel, clutching a heart-shaped pillow. An anvil was placed inside the barrel to weight it, the lid was screwed on tight and a bicycle pump used to pressurise the air inside before the hole was plugged with a cork. And off she went.

For 20 minutes Annie’s barrel bobbed towards the immense drop, almost hidden from view amid the spray. Then it fell and, almost miraculously, reappeared a minute or so later. Rescuers rushed to retrieve the barrel. Off came the lid; out came Annie, shaken, bedraggled but unquestionably alive.

Alas, she had not enjoyed her birthday trip. “If it was with my dying breath, I would caution anyone against attempting the feat,” she said later. “I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the fall.”

To cap it all, her manager later ran off with the barrel.

Julian Humphrys rounds up smaller anniversaries…

24 October 1147 

Christians capture Lisbon from the Moors.

24 October 1260

Chartres Cathedral was dedicated in the presence of King Louis IX and his family. Most of the cathedral’s structure had been completed 40 years earlier.

24 October 1648

After decades of chaos and bloodshed, central Europe’s major powers sign the Treaty of Westphalia, bringing an end to the Thirty Years’ War in which millions of people had died.

24 October 1788

American editor and writer Sarah Hale is born in Newport, New Hampshire. Her best known work will be the classic Mary had a Little Lamb, published in her book Poems for our Children in 1830.

24 October 1882

British actress Dame Sybil Thorndike was born in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. She became a friend of George Bernard Shaw, who wrote his play Saint Joan with her specifically in mind.

24 October 1941

A month after capturing the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, during the Second World War, German troops from Army Group South entered Kharkov, which had been abandoned by Soviet forces.

24 October 1929: The American economy comes crashing down

Traders are sent into a frenzy as Wall Street collapses

It was the morning of Thursday 24 October 1929, and Wall Street was packed. The New York Stock Exchange was not due to open until ten, but already the sidewalks were crowded with people, their faces anxious, the atmosphere crackling with nervous excitement.

The previous afternoon’s trading had ended with a storm of selloffs, and the mood was febrile. After years of surging stock prices, the Roaring Twenties were ending amid uncertainty. There had been hurricanes in Florida. Rumours swirled of bad land deals, and falling car and steel production. There was even talk that the great bull market, which depended heavily on cheap credit, was about to tumble.

Nobody, however, anticipated what came next. When trading opened on Black Thursday, the market plunged by more than 10 per cent in the first few moments. People were so desperate to sell that the ticker tape machine, on which the big brokerage houses relied for information, was running hours behind. “Dazed brokers waded through a sea of paper clutching frightened investors’ orders to ‘sell at any price’,” reported one paper. “At the peak of the panic-selling, the market ceased to function as such and turned into a mad clamour of salesmen looking for non-existent buyers.”

Yet not everybody saw Black Thursday as a watershed moment. President Hoover was convinced that the crash was merely a storm in a teacup. “The fundamental business of the country, that is the production and distribution of commodities,” he explained in a statement, “is on a sound and prosperous basis.”

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And the New York Daily Investment News assured its readers that the crash was merely a passing squall. “Stock Market Crisis Over”, read its headline the next day. “We have seen the worst,” explained its resident expert. “Heaven forbid that anything worse than yesterday on the Stock Exchange should be possible.” He was, of course, in for a shock.

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