To Those Who Took a Leap: The Great American Daredevils

When better to remember some of the great American daredevils who leapt before looking than Leap Day? Some you know, like Evel Knievel. Some you might not, like Bessie Coleman. But all of them have earned their way into the history books, with courage, skill and no small amount of “crazy.” Remember, these were “professionals.”

Evel Knievel

Known for motorcycle stunts and a larger than life persona, Evel Knievel made quite an impression on fans around the world. Dressed in his iconic red, white and blue jumpsuit, he pushed the limits of reason, man and man-made machines. He had nearly as many spectacular crashes as successful landings, which is probably what kept the crowds coming back for more. Ironically, he may be best known for his “Grand Canyon Jump,” though he never actually made it.

Annie Edison Taylor

Annie Edison Taylor may not have been the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, but she was the first one who made it out the other end. A retired teacher, this 63-year-old daredevil was reportedly only interested in raising money for her ailing mother. Whatever her motivations, she survived the trip with only minor injuries. Sadly, that was the end of her stuntwoman career as she spent her remaining years selling souvenirs near the Falls.

Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini was a magician, illusionist and escape artist, but he was also a daredevil. At the age of four, his family moved from Hungary to Wisconsin, where his interest in magic began. Nicknamed “King of Handcuffs,” he first found success escaping locks and chains, promoting shows by breaking out of local jails. In his career he escaped straightjackets under water, locked containers and rooms, even being buried alive. Houdini was such a consummate performer, mystery even surrounds his death.

Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman, known as “Brave Bessie” and “Queen Bess,” was the first woman of African-American and Native-American decent to hold a pilot’s license in the U.S. A skilled, professional aviatrix, Coleman pursued her passion with money she made performing in air shows. She regularly impressed peers and audiences alike, with her acumen as much as her audacity. At age 34, she died in a plane crash, but her ambition and legacy live on (she even made it on a stamp).

Honorable Mention:

Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton was an actor, comedian and stunt performer during the silent film era, but some of his stunts bordered on outrageous. Best known for his stoic delivery of physical comedy, Keaton was also skilled at surviving the harrowing situations he put himself in for his scenes. In one film, he dropped the front of a house on himself, escaping through the attic window, but possibly breaking his arm. In another, he sat on the front of a moving train and threw one large wooden railroad tie to clear another, moments before it hit the train (and himself).

Whether they leapt over Snake River Canyon (Knievel) or just leapt over social expectations (Bessie Coleman), these daredevils hold a special place in our hearts (and on our calendars). To reiterate, we do not condone any stunt attempts by non-professionals. But if your vehicle is ever in need of collision repair, we’ll be there, Restoring the Rhythm of Your Life®.

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