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Niagara Falls: The First Great Disappointment in Married Life

Oscar Wilde? Ann Landers? Gershon Legman? Anonymous? Apocryphal?

niagara08Dear Quote Investigator: In 1882 the coruscating wit Oscar Wilde came to the United States to see the country and to conduct a series of lectures. When he visited the Niagara Falls, a classic honeymoon destination, he was unimpressed. Here are two variants of a saying that has been attributed to him:

Niagara Falls is the first great disappointment in American married life.

Niagara Falls is the second great disappointment of the American bride.

I am having trouble finding a contemporaneous citation for either of these remarks. Are these really the words of Oscar Wilde?

Quote Investigator: Oscar Wilde saw the Niagara Falls in February 1882 and made a collection of serious and comical pronouncements about the hydrological wonder. The earliest evidence of a strongly matching statement located by QI appeared in an August 1883 interview printed in “The New York World” and reprinted in other newspapers. Wilde had returned to the U.S. to superintend the production of his play “Vera” in New York, and he spoke to a journalist from the periodical. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

When the reporter hinted that American patriotism had been grievously wounded by Mr. Wilde’s criticism upon Niagara, the poet laughed and said modestly:

Niagara will survive any criticism of mine. I must say this, however, that it is the first disappointment in the married life of many Americans who spend their honeymoon there.”

Wilde employed this quip about the waterfall in lectures that he later delivered in England and Ireland though the precise wording varied.

QI has found no substantive evidence that Wilde employed the variant joke with the phrase “second great disappointment”. It was in circulation by 1927, but this was many years after the death of Wilde in 1900. The variant was initially anonymous and then it was reassigned to Wilde probably because of confusion between the two similar jokes. Detailed information is given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1883 August 13, The Daily Patriot, Oscar Wilde Returns: In Commonplace Clothing and Shorn of His Glorious Locks, (Acknowledgement: “From Yesterday’s New York World”), Quote Page 2, Column 4, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (GenealogyBank)