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Marilyn’s 116-foot walk strode right to the heart of an issue that was playing out at Niagara and on many fronts in American life. If something is artificial, do we admire its beauty less? What Marilyn ultimately came to embody, as Churchwell points out, was anxiety about realness as it related to femininity.Even as so-called “natural” gender roles were promoted and valorized by the culture, the nagging possibility arose that they weren’t “natural” at all, but an act.The parks are lined with daffodils and the Korean teens that wade in them.

It also vaulted Marilyn Monroe into her now-familiar position as an icon of ruthless American femininity. She’s a picture of nerves as they approach the car.

An inordinate amount of attention, both then and since, landed on one particular scene in the movie. But then Rose hears the bell tower playing her favorite song—the signal from her lover that the murder went off without a hitch—and suddenly she stops.

Marilyn was almost always cast as a gold digger, a woman trying to leverage her sexuality to better her status.

Rose Loomis, Lorelei Lee, Marilyn herself: all were women on the make—and at the same time icons of the feminine.

Typically enigmatic, Marilyn would only say, “I learned to walk as a baby and I haven’t had a lesson since.” The controversy reflected what biographer Sarah Churchwell calls “the central anxiety in Marilyn’s story: Was she natural or manufactured? ” In the ’50s, this was becoming a question for the Falls too.

A 1950 treaty with Canada had been signed that allowed more water to be diverted into power plants than ever before.

And the ideal feminine was to be found in the midcentury American wife, devoted to husband, children, and home. But the Falls, too, were on the make for honeymoon tourist dollars, and sporting a seductive makeover.

What if those wifely paragons of selflessness were no more authentic than Rose Loomis, or Niagara? At night and in the winter, they’re dialed down to about a quarter.

What if selflessness was just a mask for pure, unadulterated self-interest? Tourists don’t see the effects, though, because the Falls face-lift—with ongoing adjustments—is undetectable from the viewing platforms.

I find myself thinking of Marilyn on April 21, 2006. The Falls have been turned up for the tourist season—as per the 1950 treaty, the two nations allow one hundred thousand cubic feet per second to go over the brink between the hours of 8 a.m. The dredging reshaped the river, the construction enhanced the landscapes along it, and the International Control Dam just upstream allows precise changes in water flow over the brinks—send more to the American Falls, a little less to the east side of the Canadian Horseshoe—as needed.

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