Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Dry Me a River by Karla Stover

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Here’s my idea for a mystery. The date is sometime in the mid-1960s. The place is New York. Someone murdered someone else and wants to dispose of the body. He / she loads up the body, drives for 6 or so hours, and dumps it in the Niagara River, near the falls. Safely back in Manhattan, the perp lets out that the individual was running from the law. There’s no body, no crime scene, and no evidence to shift through—EXCEPT—oops, the year is 1969 and the body shows up because that year the falls quit—well—quit falling. They went dry. And two bodies were found.

Nineteen sixty-nine was not the only time Niagara was dry. In 1848, a gale force wind began blowing off Lake Erie and caused thousands of tons of ice to jam up at the river’s mouth. For the next 48 hours, as the river bed dried and thousands of fish and turtles were left floundering, people flocked to the river. They couldn’t work because with the mill race was empty, and the mills and factories dependent on Niargara's water power had to shut down.

At first, venturing out on to the unexpectedly dry river bed was fun. People picked up bayonets, gun barrels, muskets, tomahawks, and other War of 1812 items. Some men with an eye to business drove a logging cart onto the bed and picked up 12-inch pine timbers measuring from 40 to 60 feet long. In as much as it could back then, the strange event became a tourist and media event. People walked from one side of the bed to the other, or crossed by horse, or in a horse-and-buggy. A squad of U.S. Army Cavalry soldiers put on an exhibition by riding up and down the bed. Downstream, some of the rocks which had been a boat hazard were blasted away.

But, then, it wasn’t fun any anymore. The more they missed the roar of the falls, the more people’s fear and anxiety grew. A Domesday scenario developed, and special church services were held on both sides of the border. Then, on March 31st, the temperature rose, the wind shifted, and the ice jam broke apart, and the falls fell again.

The winter of 1847 – 1848 wasn’t unusually cold ,but the wind was the crucial factor. The Niagara River can only hold 2% of Lake Erie’s ice, and generally, 98% of the lake’s ice remains in the lake until spring weather melts it. The next time the falls stopped falling, it was a man-made situation. And two bodies were found.

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