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The Day The Niagara Stopped Falling


The city of Buffalo is getting ready for all of that snow up there to melt and preparing for the next round - flooding. Upstate New York has often played host to extreme weather. So in the spirit of battling the ice and cold, here's a bit of history from the area. Nate DiMeo tells stories from America's past on his podcast The Memory Palace.

NATE DIMEO: The day has rolled on. The rooster would crow. And Jed Porter would slide out of bed, pad out to the cold kitchen for some coffee and some breakfast. And he'd feed his animals his dawn-covered pink at the end of the land.

And he'd be out in the fields as morning broke bright getting the farm ready for spring. And always as he'd wake and he'd work and he'd slip off to sleep to do it all again the next morning, he'd hear the rush of the river and the roar of the falls. And one night, after midnight, Jeb Porter couldn't sleep. He decided to go for a walk. And the night felt crisp and strange and changed. And then he noticed the sound was gone.

The next morning, the people who lived along the Niagara River woke to discover what Jed Porter already knew. The river had stopped running. The falls had stopped falling. And everyone started freaking out - the workers at the mills who came in to find the wheels had stopped turning, the men who filled the boats filled with tourists around the rocks through the mist at the bottom of the falls, the kids who were always told to stay away from the river lest they be swept away from their parents, and their parents who grew up there and had their lives scored by the rush of the river and the roar of the falls.

They all stood on the banks of the America side and the banks of the Canadian side and looked at the mighty river that lay between them and saw mud and flopping fish. And in that quiet in March of 1848, the owners of the mills tried to figure out what to do if the wheels didn't start turning again soon. And the man who rode the boats ran to the rocks that deviled them and blew them up with dynamite and were happy to see them gone. And the parents who grew up there went to church and asked for forgiveness for whatever they'd done to make the water go away. And the kids walked out onto the mud and found floundering turtles and treasurers - real treasures, rifles and arrows from wars that ended before they were born, but that they pretended to fight still for fun and found strange sticks and smooth rocks that they'd keep in a jar forever, long after the ice had blocked the head of the river, broke free and let the Niagara flow again; first is a whisper and then as a roar. And they'd look to their treasurers now and then as they grew up there with their lives scored by the rush of the river and the roar of the falls and remember that day when the silence came before the river came back.

MARTIN: Nate DiMeo. You can hear more of his stories at thememorypalace.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.