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Remembering 2003 evening with Falls daredevil Kirk Jones

The rubber ball turned up first. A 10-foot rubber ball, such as a daredevil would use to go over Niagara Falls. They found it in April.

On June 2, they found the body of the daredevil, Kirk Jones.

Jones was the guy who went over Niagara Falls in 2003, with no barrel, nothing, and survived with hardly a scratch. Apparently he was trying to go over the falls again, in the rubber ball. He didn't make it. And it made me sad.

But it's also a triumph, in a way. I have been thinking about it a lot because the day after Jones went over the falls in 2003, I met him. I spent an evening with him, at the Hyatt, listening to Jackie Jocko.

That happened thanks to Howard, the guy I would marry a year later. Howard was downtown at E.B. Green's to see Jackie Jocko perform. And Jones materialized in the lounge.

Howard called me. "You've got to get down here," he said.

So I did – a bit slowly, which Howard has never let me forget. I was off and hadn't been following the story. I was oblivious to the fact that my colleagues at The News were desperately looking for Jones, that they had even staked out his house in Michigan.

I simply and obediently joined Howard, and sat down with him, Jones, and a couple of our friends who were also Jocko regulars and had happened to turn up. Other than our group, the lounge was empty.

Niagara Falls daredevil Kirk Jones, far right in top photo, from his meeting with Mary Kunz Goldman.

Jones was out on bail after being charged with and convicted of going over the falls. He had just spent the night on a wooden jail bench, and joked that the bed at the Hyatt was more comfortable. He was still wearing the clothes he had worn going over the falls, except for one sneaker he had lost in the water.

He seemed like an ordinary guy, not a nut case. He was drinking whiskey, which the court had specifically forbidden him to do. We all laughed conspiratorially about that. If you couldn't have a drink when you had just gone over the falls, what kind of world were we living in?

Howard couldn't resist a wedding pun: "I'm going to be taking the plunge."

Jones joked back: "You're a braver man than I am."

Howard would grow emotional, recalling that evening. Before the rest of us showed up, he and Jones had been at the table alone. He asked Jones: When he went over the falls, was it a suicide attempt, or a stunt?

Jones admitted that his walls back home were covered with shots of Falls daredevils. But he said, "No matter what you are going to hear in the news, I'm telling you what really happened. I did not intend on surviving. I was trying to commit suicide."

He added that perhaps he was meant to survive it, and he was very happy that he did. Howard felt sure he was telling the truth.

Before the evening was over, Howard asked Jones for an autograph. Jones wrote on a cocktail napkin: "To Howard and Mary, whenever you look to the falls, think that anything is possible. Be strong, like Niagara. Kirk Jones."

He added, in parentheses, "Niagara Falls Survivor, 10/20/03." He did not assume we would remember who he was.

A lucky leap of faith: Kirk Jones boasted that he knew how to survive Niagara Falls. So was Monday's astonishing plunge an impulsive act or a calculated stunt?

Jones was never able to capitalize properly on his 15 minutes of fame. There is no shame in that. Niagara Falls lore brims with people who found themselves in that same predicament.

But his 2003 plunge did change his life. It turned him into a daredevil.

There it was, in all his death notices. "Daredevil Kirk Jones." It was poignant that his body was identified on the very day Nik Wallenda's wife, Erendira, performed her Niagara Falls stunt, on a day when the world, in the best Victorian/Edwardian tradition, was celebrating Niagara Falls derring-do.

Jones loved that world. Now, he is part of it. Even if his first stunt was actually a suicide attempt, he died a real, genuine daredevil. May the God who spared him 14 years ago now rest his soul.

Body pulled from Lake Ontario identified as Niagara Falls daredevil

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