Top 50 Stories: 1974 - Evel Knievel's jump

npoppino@idahostatesman.comMay 25, 2014 

Evel Knievel's attempt to cross the Snake River Canyon

Evel Knievel, in his X-2 Skycycle with a parachute attached, floats down to the bottom of the Snake River Canyon west of Shoshone Falls on Sunday, September 8, 1974, after his attempt to jump across the canyon.

STORMI GREENER, IDAHO STATESMAN FILE Buy Photo

  • ABOUT THIS SERIES

    To celebrate 150 years of producing this newspaper, we are re-printing one of our Top 50 stories each day through July 6. Then you can vote for your Top 10 stories, which will appear in our commemorative special section on July 26.

In Twin Falls, stuntman Evel Knievel's failed Sept. 8, 1974, jump over the Snake River Canyon is mostly remembered for two things: the chaos that surrounded it and the question of whether Knievel balked.

Attempts to re-enact the jump over the years have been met with mixed response due to what Knievel left behind. A riotous, upset crowd burned portable toilets and otherwise took out their disappointment on the Snake River Canyon. Knievel left town with unpaid debts (including thousands of dollars for those toilets), though he claimed decades later to have settled them all.

In the Statesman, reporter Tim Woodward noted many onlookers nearest to the jump site "either were intoxicated or under the influence of drugs." At one point, he wrote, it seemed as though the crowd would push the gathered media over the edge of the canyon.

Knievel insisted until his death that his rocket malfunctioned, popping a parachute early and sending him into the canyon. But the question of whether he panicked and triggered his parachute himself persisted into this past decade.

"Thank God I didn't go into the river or I never would have made it," he told reporters after being flown back up to the rim.

This year brings the 40th anniversary of the jump, and several modern daredevils (including the designer of Knievel's Skycycle) have competed to re-enact it.

An odd historical coincidence: Sept. 8, 1974, was also the day President Gerald Ford pardoned his predecessor, Richard Nixon, for Watergate. That decision overshadowed Knievel on the Statesman's Sept. 9 front page.

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