Niagara Falls was established as the ideal honeymoon destination by the French at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Napoleon’s brother, Jerome Bonaparte, traveled by stagecoach from New Orleans to spend his honeymoon at the remarkable natural wonder, on this day in 1802. He returned home with glowing reports. Since then, it gradually gained a reputation as the undisputed honeymoon capital of the world. And for good reason.
The Niagara River is actually a mere 35 miles in length, stretching between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. But along that short distance are some of the most stunning sights on the face of the earth. The imposing Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side of the river drop 177 feet, and the stupendous Vertical Falls on the American side of the river drop 184 feet. Together with the thunderous crash of the waters, the rising mist from the pool below, and the wide panorama across the gorge, the falls create a surreal spectacle of titanic proportions. Winter brings an added dimension of beauty and outdoor activity to Niagara. Thousands of gulls and terns flock around the Falls and rapids. The clinging spray of the Falls blankets the nearby trees, rocks and lamp posts forming luminescent frozen shapes. When Charles Dickens visited the Niagara Falls in 1841, he wrote, “Niagara was at once stamped upon my heart, an Image of Beauty; to remain there, changeless and indelible, until its pulses cease to beat, forever.”
In May 1535, Jacques Cartier left France to explore the New World. Although he never saw Niagara Falls, the Indians he met along the St.Lawrence River told him about it. Samuel de Champlain explored the region in 1608. He, too, heard stories of the mighty cataract, but never visited it. Etienne Brule, the first European to see Lakes Ontario, Erie Huron, and Superior, apparently was also the first to behold the Falls, in 1615. Later that same year, the Recollet missionary explorers arrived in Ontario. They were followed a decade later by the Jesuits. It was a Jesuit father, Gabriel Lalemant, who first recorded the Iroquois name for the river—Onguiaahra, meaning the Strait. In December 1678, Recollet priest Louis Hennepin visited Niagara Falls. A few years later, he published the first engraving of the Falls in his book Nouvelle Decouverte.
Although Napoleon’s greatest contribution to American was undoubtedly the Louisiana Purchase, the discovery of this marvel as a place to nurture young love must rate a close second.