On June 1, 1927, Al Faussett (1879-1948) rides partway over Spokane Falls on the Spokane River (Spokane County) in a homemade boat. “Partway” is the operative word here, as Faussett only navigates one of the two falls. His boat is caught in a whirlpool below the first falls, and he is injured and has to be rescued.A Falls-Leaping Daredevil
Alfred “Al” Faussett was born in Minnesota on April 12, 1879, but moved to Monroe, Washington (Snohomish County), about 1893. He married, had a family, and lived an obscure life running his own small logging operation until the mid-1920s. Then, in 1926, opportunity knocked, and on May 30, Faussett successfully navigated Sunset Falls (on the Skykomish River in Snohomish County) in a homemade dugout canoe. The success of this adventure whetted his appetite for more, and on September 6, 1926, Faussett also conquered Eagle Falls (also on the Skykomish River in Snohomish County), this time in a homemade boat.
His reputation as a falls-leaping daredevil secured, Faussett sought out bigger challenges. He had his eye on a leap over Snoqualmie Falls, but King County and Puget Power (who owned the land near the falls) rebuffed his requests for permission to do it. He was more successful in getting permission from the Spokane chief of police to take on Spokane Falls in the Spokane River. Located in the heart of Spokane, the falls actually consist of two separate waterfalls located about a quarter-mile apart known as the Upper Falls and Lower Falls, with a total drop of 146 feet.
The big day was on June 1, 1927, and crowds estimated at 20,000 to 40,000 jammed the banks of the Spokane River for blocks along the route which Faussett would float. Faussett had a new boat for his adventure, a roughly 15-foot-long vessel that had been hollowed out of a section of a spruce log and bound together by three big iron bands. The boat, weighing about 750 pounds, was slightly more than three feet in diameter and about three inches thick, and had a small trapdoor to allow Faussett to climb into the interior of the vessel. The interior was so small that he could only lie down in it, and the interior walls were padded to give him some protection from the buffeting he would receive when he went down the falls. Three sections of oak tree roots clamped to the front of the boat served as shock absorbers of sorts. According to Spokane’s Spokesman-Review, the craft was named the 777 of Seattle.
Flipping the Leap
Wearing a pair of green silk trunks, full-length gym hose, and a Neversink life jacket, Faussett casually chatted up the crowd as he prepared for his leap; only his constant gum chewing betrayed that he might have been a bit nervous. Just before 3:30 p.m. he climbed into his boat and was pushed into the river. The current simply pushed the boat back into the rocks along the side of the river, and the boat got caught in a whirlpool, spun around four times, and drifted to a halt. Faussett popped out of his trapdoor and asked for a pole or rope so he could push himself into the current. Police officers tossed him a rope and he began to guide himself farther into the river.And again, the whirlpool caught his boat. The water was high, and the whirlpool was faster than Faussett was. Before he could close the trapdoor, the boat filled halfway with water. He yelled for another rope, but the current snatched his vessel and propelled it into the Upper Falls. The boat shot nearly 20 feet into the air and then flipped end over end before landing at the bottom of the falls and disappearing for nearly a minute. The crowd shouted less than reassuring comments back and forth: “He’s a goner,” “He won’t make it,” and “You’ll never see him again” ("Falls Too Much For Daredevil").
Yet the boat did reappear, “for all the world like a breaching whale,” described the Spokesman-Review, only to get sucked into another whirlpool and spun from the south to the north end of the river, whirling like a spinning top for a good 10 minutes and slamming against rocks along the northern riverbank before Faussett was finally able to open the trap door. He signaled to men on a bluff above the north bank of the river to toss him a rope or a wire and tried to pull himself back toward the main channel. But the whirlpool caught his boat with such force that it threw Faussett backward; he struck the back of his head against the trap door and began bleed profusely. The men on shore realized he was in trouble and pulled his boat to the north bank.
Unfortunately Faussett landed at the bottom of a 20-foot cliff. After a few minutes he got out of his boat and tried to climb the cliff, but his injuries and exhaustion forced him to stop partway up. Several men standing above climbed down and helped him to the top, where “ready hands interfered with each other in an effort to staunch the flow of blood from the wound in his head” ("Falls Too Much For Daredevil"). He was taken to the emergency room at a nearby hospital, where he was diagnosed with a moderate concussion and a number of cuts to his head and body.
“They Got Whiskers On ‘Em”
It turned out to be a blessing that Faussett got out when he did. His boat was loosely anchored where he had left it, and spent the rest of the afternoon twirling madly in a whirlpool. About 6 p.m. it broke loose and in a series of sideways plunges slid down the Lower Falls, crashing against a concrete pier of the Milwaukee Railroad Bridge and shattering into perhaps 100 pieces; the Spokesman-Review reported that the largest piece left was about five feet long and four inches wide. Police on the scene opined that had Faussett tried to take on the Lower Falls, he would have died in the attempt.Faussett owned up that the falls were a bit more than he expected. “They got whiskers on ‘em, them birds have, an’ they sure can give a feller an awful tossing,” he told the Spokesman-Review. He promised to come back and take on the falls again, maybe later that summer, in a larger, heavier boat which he said was equipped to give him better control. But he did not return to run Spokane Falls. He jumped four more falls in the Northwest in 1928 and 1929, then moved to California for a few years. By 1934 he had moved to Portland, Oregon, and remained there the rest of his life. He died on February 16, 1948.