In Memory of the Daring Captain Webb – Niagara Falls, NY (1902)

This early souvenir postcard from Niagara Falls contains a surprising memorial to Captain Matthew Webb.

Webb was born in 1848 to an English surgeon and his wife who lived in Coalbrookdale, a village in Shropshire (west, central England) that was becoming a center of iron- smelting.

Webb grew up swimming in the Severn River, and (as one of 12 children) began training in the British Navy at age 12.

Webb continued his swimming regime while training to become a merchant seaman and later as an employee of the Cunard line.

He came to public attention by a daring dive into the Atlantic to save a crewman swept overboard, and, later, by saving a brother who was floundering in the Severn during one of Webb’s home visits.

In 1875, Webb became the first man to swim the English Channel unaided, and his 22-hour feat made him a British hero.

He took part in numerous contests and exhibitions, trying to capitalize on his fame, and also wrote a book and licensed his image to commercial firms.

In 1883, Webb announced his intention to swim through the great whirlpool that churns beneath Niagara Falls.

Despite many efforts to dissuade him, Webb entered the Niagara River on July 24, and drowned.

His body is buried at Niagara Falls, NY.  He was 35 years old.

Almost 20 years later, an image of Captain Webb appears on souvenir postcards.

The postcard was published by William Gent, and printed at Niagara Falls, NY.

This postcard was mailed from Niagara Falls to Master Gabriel Howard Gutman of New York City.

Young Gabriel lived at 1864 Seventh Avenue, an area of South Harlem in northern Manhattan.

The Gutman home no longer exists – an apartment building was erected at that site in 1920.

The postcard image of the Niagara Railroad Bridge, the Whirlpool Rapids, and of Captain Webb was sent by “Your Papa”.

The affectionate father added, “Kiss and Love”.

It seems that the postcard was treasured by the boy, Gabriel, as it has survived for a hundred and twenty years.


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