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Atlantic City Boardwalk

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Atlantic City Boardwalk

Recreation of Couney’s Atlantic City storefront for the TV series “Boardwalk Empire.”.

Martin Couney’s baby incubator attractions were featured at prominent expos and amusement parks, including Atlantic City’s pier and boardwalk. Couney also had a presence at Coney Island’s Luna Park, and at a number of the World’s Fair expositions including the 1939 New York City’s World Fair, the Omaha Trans-Mississippi Exposition, the Buffalo Exposition and the Chicago World’s Fair.

In Atlantic City, the permanent infant incubator exhibit was located on the Boardwalk at Arkansas Avenue, across from Million Dollar Pier, which was built by John Lake Young. The exhibit was in place as early as 1902. Admission at first was one dollar to see the infants and hear a lecture on their care. Later, the price was changed to whatever donation the visitor wished to make.

The New York Times took note of the exhibit in the article “Atlantic City’s Season,” April 10, 1904.

The excerpt below is from Gaston Lichenstein’s 1908 book, “A Visit to Young’s Pier.”

Four babies are being cared for by the institution on Young’s Pier. One of them, a healthy youngster of eleven pounds and four ounces, arrived on April 15th, weighing three pounds and two ounces. He is a seven months’ premature specimen. Another, that arrived on April 20th, weighing two bounds and twelve ounces, now tips the scales at eight pounds and eight ounces.

A Filipino premature baby of six months, the smallest baby on record in the world that is alive today (June 26, 1905), is twenty six days old, and weights two pounds and two ounces. Only nature food is supplied, and the different babies are subjected to varying temperatures, from eight-five degrees upward, according to their condition.

A scale, weighing to a small fraction of an ounce, is publicly exhibited. This delicate apparatus insures accuracy. The “nursery” is enclosed in glass, so that visitors can obtain a full view of the artificial arrangements.

Three of the four infants came under my observation. The extraordinarily youthful Filipino, who is yet imperfectly developed, lies in a state of apparent obliviousness, but, a youngster about to be discharged, who now lives in the open air and who was being held by a nurse, appeared strong and healthy like any normal child.

The postcard below shows an “Incubator Babies” sign on the mid-level of a larger building on the pier, which has been described elsewhere as “a three-story Italianate villa complete with conservatory and classical statuary.” (Atlantic City Weekly), The image is labeled “Young’s Pier” and dated 1905. This was probably just advertising for the exhibit, which is known to have been located on the Boardwalk across from the Pier.

Hildegard Couney, Martin Couney’s daughter, attended nursing school at the Atlantic City Hospital. After her graduation, she was put in charge of the Atlantic City incubator baby exhibit. The picture below shows Hildegard Couney holding a baby at the Atlantic City exhibit. This photo is found on several web sites (e.g. FindAGrave) and for sale on Getty Images. I have tried to find the original article containing this photo, but have been unsuccessful so far.

Original caption: “Nineteen Ounce Baby–Perfect in All But Size. Atlantic City, New Jersey: This boy born to Mr. and Mrs. Biago San Filipo at Hamonton, New Jersey, weighs only 1000 grams or about one and one quarter pounds. Born three months before its scheduled time, it is thriving nevertheless in an infant incubator hospital in Atlantic City. Miss Hildegard Couney, registered nurse and manager of the place was herself a premature baby back in 1907. Her father established the system of such hospitals now found in several cities. Miss Couney’s finger ring slips completely over the tiny hand and wrist of the new baby.”

On July 5th 1927, a fire swept through Atlantic City supposedly started by a lit cigarette carelessly thrown on the Boardwalk planks. Before the flames could be tamed, they had scorched nearly a city block on the Boardwalk between Columbia Place and Arkansas Avenue. An article from the New York Times reported that “about fourteen babies were in an incubator building on the Boardwalk, one of the places destroyed [by fire].” However, the babies in peril were rescued by physicians, nurses and good Samaritans and carted to shelter within the Shelbourne Hotel.

The Atlantic City exhibit closed in 1943. [Source: www.atlanticcityexperience.org]