First Black man to survive Niagara Falls plunge later appeared on TV quiz shows


Published September 12, 2023 at 11:46 am

Nathan Boya is tended to at the Niagara Falls hospital following his plunge over the Fall in a ball-shaped barrel. He had a few bumps and bruises but that was it. (Photos: Niagara Falls Public Library)

The first–and only–Black man to survive a plunge over Niagara Falls was one of the very few neither seeking fame nor fortune. It seems TV game shows found him regardless.

Nathan Boya (real name: William Fitzgerald) was an African American from New York City who also held another distinction after his Niagara Falls escapades. He was the first man to get charged by the Niagara Falls Parks Commission for doing the illegal stunt.

On July 15, 1961, Boya went over the Horseshoe Falls in a metal ball he helped design that he called the “Plunge-O-Sphere.”

The self-designed heavily-padded ball-shaped barrel–three metres (10 feet) in diameter, weighing 544 kg (1,200 pounds)–effortlessly survived the trip over the Falls, save for one dent sustained when it hit a rock at the bottom.

However, performing stunts on the Falls could only be done with permission following the death of William Hill Jr. in 1951.

Boya didn’t bother with a permit to do his stunt and when he was eventually fished out of the water, he was met by a Niagara Falls police officer, who arrested him. He was subsequently fined $100 plus $13 court costs in the Niagara Falls Ontario Provincial Court.

A month later, on Aug, 30, 1961, Boya appeared as a contestant on the TV quiz show I’ve Got A Secret, on which panellists try to guess their guest’s claim to fame through a series of questions. (The audience was shown the secret before the questioning began.)

Two of the panellists, Henry Morgan and Bess Meyerson, didn’t question him because they recognized him. That left Bill Cullen and Betsy Palmer to quiz him.

He was later a contestant on another quiz show, To Tell The Truth, whereby three people all claim to be the same person and are drilled with questions by the panellists. On the Jan. 15, 1962, episode, three of the four members of the celebrity panel (Tom Poston, Dina Merrill and Johnny Carson) guessed him correctly, but Betty White did not.

What might have made a better question for the panellist was: why?

At the time of the plunge, Boya simply said, “I had to do it, I wanted to do it, and I am glad I did it.”

However, interviewed in 2012 for a National Geographic television special about Niagara Falls daredevils, Boya revealed his reason for his stunt after decades of silence.

It seems he had broken off his engagement to a woman that he felt he had wronged, and he performed the dangerous stunt as a form of penance. Niagara Falls had been their planned honeymoon destination.

Nathan Boya’s “Plunge-O-Sphere” is fished out of the water
following the 1961 stunt.

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