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By Frank Thomas Croisdale

Once again we made a huge error in not following the lead of our prudent neighbors in Niagara Falls, Ont. After would-be suicide victim turned daredevil Kirk Jones allegedly survived a plunge over the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, the Ontario Parks Commission banned him for life. Oh, had the New York State Parks Department been so enlightened.

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As a result of our inability to take Jones for one of the two entities that he most assuredly is -- a tragic figure suffering from severe depression or a cunning con man who pulled off the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the good citizens of Niagara Falls (AquaFalls notwithstanding) -- we have been bestowed with the ignominious honor of becoming Press Conference Central for the 41-year-old from Michigan.

Does it really need to be said that this is a bad thing?

As a city struggling to forge a positive identity while living, both figuratively and literally, in the shadows of the highrise hotels on the Canadian shoreline, the last thing Niagara Falls, N.Y., needs is to associate ourselves with someone who interrupts his press conferences by introducing himself to unsuspecting tourists as "the guy who went over the falls."

It's sort of like the conversation that parents have with teen-agers about being seen in public with people of questionable character.

"Your mother and I know that you don't take drugs, son. It's just that, if people see you hanging out on street corners with drug dealers, they'll think that you're doing drugs. Do you understand what we're saying?"

Speaking of the press conference that Jones conducted recently, I had to feel for the media members sent to cover it for television and the newspapers. You could see in their reports and in their writing that they were carefully walking a journalistic line of reporting what Jones had to say while resisting the urge to scream, "This guy is nuts!"

In case you missed it, Jones called the media gathering to report that he was planning some grand new stunt for the near future. He hinted around that he might be eyeing the world's record for the longest freefall from a structure -- possibly one of the highrise hotels in Las Vegas.

Why wouldn't he hold that press conference in the City of Sin, then, you might ask. Because the only things to turn out to hear him babble on in Nevada would be a gaggle of parched desert crickets, that's why.

Hey, Kirk, haven't you heard the gambling haven's new slogan, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas"?

Jones went on to make this statement to the press concerning a possible plunge over the rock-laden American Falls:

"If I'm going unprotected, the American Falls, in my mind, is absolutely unattainable, without a possible miracle. The only thing we've ever known to survive the American Falls in history was a dog. There's only formidable solid rock waiting for you at the bottom."

First of all, what does he mean by "we"? Somehow, when I imagine noted Falls historians Paul Gromosiak and Bob Kostoff getting together for tea, I can't envision them ringing up Jones to make it a threesome.

Secondly, the "formidable solid rock" that he speaks so eloquently of precludes any notion of plunging over the American Falls -- with or without a barrel. People who go over the American Falls are introduced to one person and one person only after completing their stunt -- Niagara County Coroner James Joyce.

The bottom line is that Jones is like a lost, starving kitten that arrived on our doorstep. Rather than quietly feed him a can of tuna outside the backdoor, we have put him in the pet store window so everyone can have a look at the motley mess of mangled fur.

I'm sure that Fallside Cafe and Souvenir Shop owner Louis Antonacci, from whose business Jones held the press conference, meant well when he said, "I just make sure, when he comes in the city, that he's welcomed."

Hey, Louis, like any stray, by feeding him you're only encouraging him to hang around.

As I was preparing to write this column, my mother-in-law bought a new car from a dealership on Grand Island. You know, the one where the owner's image can be seen reclining on the side of metro buses throughout Western New York?

Somewhere between picking out the color of her interior and going over the details of her warranty, my wife's mom looked up to see that Jones was being used to pitch cars from the showroom. I guess it beats working in the circus.

Maybe that's the problem with Jones after all. He wants you to believe that he arrived in Niagara last year depressed at the notion of turning 40 with little to show for his life's accomplishments and determined to end his existence in the thundering spray of the Horseshoe Falls.

This is how he described it in his own words:

"I know now how a condemned man must feel as he walks to the electric chair, as I drove to Niagara Falls that day. It was a deep, sinking feeling I've never had in my life.

"I could feel in my mind Niagara actually beckoning me: 'Do you have what it takes? Can you do it?' I felt the souls of the thousands and thousands that have died there singing to me." Jones then goes on to say, "It felt like the hand of God grabbed my ankles and yanked as hard as it could."

He holds out the notion that his trip over Niagara was some sort of metamorphosis, serving as a catharsis for his beleaguered soul.

So he did what with this second chance -- joined the circus and swept up after elephants? Now he's brokered his "fame" into a job selling cars? Jones' words beg you to take him as a sage, while his actions are more suited to the term "fool."

By holding press conferences to revisit his one moment of glory, Jones runs the risk of encouraging other sad sacks to experiment with the type of folly he claims to have survived.

Those who truly know the power of Niagara realize that those types of actions will only lead to death and heartbreak.

Kirk Jones can do the people of Niagara Falls a favor and refrain from holding any more press conferences here. If he wants to kill himself jumping off a building in Nevada, fine. Hold court with the media there, not here.

In honor of Kirk's new gig, I'd like to amend the first sentence of this column. The error that the Parks Department made in not banning Jones wasn't huge, it was huuuuuuuuge!

Frank Thomas Croisdale is a Contributing Editor at the Niagara Falls Reporter. You can write him at NFReporter@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Nov. 9 2004