Niagara Falls, By Way of Boston

In this installment of Story Behind the Story, correspondent Rob Gurwitt learned just how much someone would travel to see both sides of Niagara Falls. ...
by | August 26, 2009

In this installment of Story Behind the Story, correspondent Rob Gurwitt learned just how much someone would travel to see both sides of Niagara Falls.

Kidd-niagra-falls Niagara Falls straddles the border of the U.S. and Canada. To fully experience the attraction, you may not want to leave your passport at home.

One of the oddest moments of my time in Niagara Falls came after I'd left it -- on the flight home from Buffalo. Dreading the prospect of transcribing notes during the relatively short trip to Boston, I instead turned to my seatmate and asked where he was headed. He smiled sheepishly. "Right back to Buffalo," he said.

It turned out that he was a Californian whose wife was spending the summer studying at Harvard. They'd decided to drive to Niagara Falls, and had done the eight hours on the road only to discover that he and his son had left their passports sitting on the dresser back in Cambridge. Without them, they might have been able to get to the Canadian side of the falls, but they certainly would not have been able to get back into the U.S. So he'd decided to fly back to Boston, take a cab to the apartment, grab the passports, and catch the next flight back to Buffalo. "Am I crazy?" he asked.

I assured him that he wasn't. And here's the thing: I wasn't just being polite.

Not only are the falls worth the trip -- they're astounding -- but to see them you really want to visit both sides (on foot, I would argue, even if it causes the photographer you're traveling with to take potshots at you later).

The Canadian side is far more civilized, and the gardens almost seem worth the trip on their own, until you get right up to the falls, when it's hard to pay attention to anything else but the water thundering by at your elbow and the full, breathtaking sweep of the horseshoe falls.

But the U.S. side is what actually sticks in my memory, especially the visit down below the falls that David Kidd describes -- it's one thing to watch all that water going over from the safety of a sidewalk; it's another to be right next to the receiving end. Frederick Law Olmsted designed the state park to put visitors in the midst of the river's power, and it was a stroke of genius.

Our flight to Boston was late, and by the time we landed, my seatmate figured he had just enough time to get home, bust the land speed record up to their third-floor walk-up, and get back to the airport. I just hope he'd factored Boston traffic into his calculations.

Rob's story comparing the economic conditions in the two Niagara Falls will be posted on GOVERNING's web site September 1.

Tina Trenkner
Tina Trenkner  |  Deputy Editor, GOVERNING.com
ttrenkner@governing.com  |  @tinatrenkner

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