It's an amazing snapshot – so amazing that many have been quick to cry fake: North America's most iconic falls, apparently frozen mid-flow – but what moment in time is frozen in sepia within this frame? One might think the answer would be simple, but with the origins of this photo veiled in a mist of uncertainty like the spray produced by the falls themselves, nothing is guaranteed.
It seems claims of Photoshop frolics are misguided in this case; yet while the shot looks authentic, because its photographer is unknown, we can't be sure precisely when it was taken. 1911 has been the date aired most on the web, but it could just as easily be 1912, when much of the surrounding Niagara River was frozen. The other point here is that in the photo the falls are not entirely frozen over, with several small spouts of water visible gushing out from beneath the crust of ice crystals.
American Falls frozen over, probably 1936
Photo: Image: Photographer unknown via Niagara Falls Public Library
According to historical records, during only one year, 1848, has freezing weather caused the thousands of cubic feet of water per second flowing over the Niagara Falls to run dry, an event thought to have been caused by ice jamming and damming upriver. Ice bridges spanning the Niagara River from bank to bank have formed as a result of various other colder winters, and in 1936, when the photo above was probably taken, the American Falls are said to have frozen over completely.
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