Valentine: Lovebirds and the raging torrent of emotion

Steenie Harvey visits Niagara Falls, the honeymoon capital of the world

There are waterfalls and then there are the Niagara Falls, the widest falls on earth. Arguably the most romantic, too, for Niagara calls itself the world's honeymoon capital. Of its 12 million annual visitors, 500,000 are newlyweds.

Lovebirds flock to Ontario's Niagara rather than its sister town in New York State. Though Horseshoe Falls and the American Falls thunder across the international border, Uncle Sam only gets the dregs of this particular tourist barrel. The awesome views are on Canada's side. And the crowds view from every vantage point - from boats, aero cars, towers and scenic tunnels. Tightwads gather at Table Rock, a free lookout spot where even cynical divorcees get dewy-eyed. Horseshoe Falls has a splashdown rate of 1 million bathtubs per second and its spray clouds simply devastate a girl's mascara.

It was at Table Rock that the cascades had to share star billing with Marilyn Monroe in the 1952 movie, Niagara. The film was touted as "a raging torrent of emotion that even nature can't control", yet the critics were more smitten by Monroe's wiggly walk.

Niagara's ideas of seduction range from rainbows in the mist to legends of Indian maidens sacrificed to the insatiable god of the Falls. Not that everyone succumbs to the magic. Oscar Wilde sneered that for newlyweds, "Niagara must be the second biggest disappointment of American married life".

Ah, but now wedded bliss is enhanced by heart-shaped love tubs and king- sized waterbeds. Resort motels are packed even when it is -25C and an ice bridge spans the Niagara river. Valentine's Day is the steamiest time of all.

Things were somewhat different in 1795. Then government officials declined to lay a trail to the Falls, as "nobody wanted to see them but small boys".

The early railroads proved them wrong, of course, and soon countless North American brides were demanding Niagara honeymoons. With the bridal trains came a barmy army of adventurers. Charles Blondin tightroped across Niagara's gorge in 1859, pausing midway to drain a bottle of wine. He performed the feat many times - blindfolded, on stilts and pushing a wheelbarrow. Schoolteacher Anna Edson Taylor survived a trip over Horseshoe Falls in a barrel in 1901, but other lunatics weren't always as fortunate. Niagara can indeed be an all-too-fatal attraction.

Such stunts are now illegal, so daredevils must make do with Clifton Hill, Niagara's "street of fun", where every night is Weird Night. Gruesome twosomes put their throbbing loins on hold and instead traipse doggedly between Dracula's Castle, Movieland's Waxworks and Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum, whose oddities include an effigy of a Chinaman apparently born with four eyeballs.

Some go on to snicker at monstrous cucumbers in the Guinness Records Museum; others thrill to Jeffrey Dahmer, who flaunts his waxen charms in the Criminals' Hall of Fame. Then there's the JFK Assassination Exhibit, the Elvis memorabilia, Niagara Falls Museum's two-headed calf, the replica Crown Jewels...

But lovers should beware. On this street of unnatural wonders, it's not only a passion for Niagara that may well begin to wilt.

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