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Coney Island Sideshows

Dr. Martin Couney was the proprietor of "Incubator Baby Exhibits" at many of the large expositions and world's fairs during the early 1900's, culminating in a large pavilion at the New York World's Fair in 1939-1940.

Couney is perhaps best known for his permanent sideshow at Luna Park in Coney Island, which operated from approximately 1903 to 1945. The picture above was taken in 1906. Couney lived near the amusement park in Sea Gate.

A picture of the Coney Island Incubator sideshow facade at Luna Park ca. 1941. Photograph is courtesy of Beth Allen, used with permission, and may not be used elsewhere without permission of the owner - bethallen@optonline.net

A picture of Beth Allen and Martin Couney taken in 1941 at Luna Park, from the Coney Island History Project web site. Photograph is courtesy of Beth Allen, used with permission, and may not be used elsewhere without permission of the owner - bethallen@optonline.net

"Beth Allen was born 2 months premature in 1941. Desperate to save her, and with few other options -- hospitals of the day had no facilities for premature infants -- Beth's parents placed her in the care of Dr. Martin Couney... who for decades operated his neonatal care facility as a 10 cent sideshow at Coney Island." -- from the Coney Island History Project web site. Photograph is courtesy of Beth Allen, used with permission, and may not be used elsewhere without permission of the owner - bethallen@optonline.net

Beth Allen's incubator. Photograph is courtesy of Beth Allen, used with permission, and may not be used elsewhere without permission of the owner - bethallen@optonline.net

Beth Allen close-up in the incubator. Photograph is courtesy of Beth Allen, used with permission, and may not be used elsewhere without permission of the owner - bethallen@optonline.net

Beth Allen being held by one of the nurses in the Coney Island Incubator exhibit on the midway. Photograph is courtesy of Beth Allen, used with permission, and may not be used elsewhere without permission of the owner - bethallen@optonline.net

Beth Allen and Lecturer O'Neill. Photograph is courtesy of Beth Allen, used with permission, and may not be used elsewhere without permission of the owner - bethallen@optonline.net

Beth Allen in her bassinet, after graduation from the incubator. Photograph is courtesy of Beth Allen, used with permission, and may not be used elsewhere without permission of the owner - bethallen@optonline.net

Interview with Terry Sullivan, cousin of Beth Allen, remembering her visits to Beth at Luna Park.

Interview with Beth Allen, a graduate of the Coney Island incubator exhibit at Luna Park in 1941. She was born two months early and weighed 1 lb. 10 oz. at birth.

Three nurses from the Coney Island exhibit appear here, holding six premature infants having an average weight of 2 pounds.

Dreamland, built in 1904 and one of Coney Island's three amusement parks, was considered more "refined and orderly" than Luna Park and Steeplechase Park. When a fire destroyed the park in 1911, the babies were moved to the Luna Park incubator exhibit. Perhaps the first emergency transport of sick newborns on a large scale!


The following article appeared in the New York Times on August 1, 1904:

Incubator Graduates Hold A Reunion

Forty Healthy Babies Meet at Coney Island

Their Photographs Taken

Greatest Interest in the Triplets -- Low Death Rate Among the Infants

The alumni and alumnae of the Incubator College, the tiny mites of humanity that have been saved through science, held their first annual reunion at Dreamland, Coney Island, yesterday, and made one of the most remarkable gatherings of infants on record. They were not only the youngsters that had been reared in the Dreamland institute of incubation, but those which in the years gone by had been saved by the incubators at Luna Park, at Atlantic City, and even at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo three years ago.

The first idea of the reunion was to give the rescued babies and their mothers and fathers a good time, but Drs. Couney and Fischel were also anxious to see how the babies were getting along. In both plans the result was eminently satisfactory, for it would be hard to find a finer set of infants anywhere than those which cooed in their mothers' arms while their photographs were being taken yesterday afternoon, or a more satisfied lot of paters and maters after they had had luncheon at the expense of the management, and "done" the Island free of cost.

In all forty graduates put in an appearance. Naturally the triplets came in for the most attention. Heading the list were the three little Cohen girls, Rebecca, Rose, and Rachel, who were born in a house on Pike Street on July 17, 1901, and two days thereafter were taken to Buffalo by Dr. Fischel. The Cohen girls are as big as any young ladies of their age, yet three years ago the whole three weighed only as much as one infant of usual weight.

Theodore Roosevelt Rosofsky, who was born on July 5 last, went with his father to visit his two little brothers, who are still in the incubator establishment. They are William McKinley and Benjamin Harrison Rosofsky.

Dr. M. A. Couney of Berlin, who is the inventor of the incubator system, and who, with Dr. Edward Wallace Lee of this city first installed the apparatus at the Omaha Exposition in 1897, told the mothers that, whereas about 97 percent of infants such as are reared in the incubators die, there havd been lost but 6 out of 56 at the Pan-American, 4 out of 32 at Luna Park last year, and but 3 out of 38 at Dreamland this year. This year's list in the freshman class includes three sets of twins and one of triplets.


The following article appeared in the New York Times on August 8, 1904:

Half A Million At Coney

Excursions Make Crowd A Record Breaker -- The Tiniest Baby

Coney Island entertained within its borders yesterday more strangers, that is, more people from beyond the confines of New York than on any day this year, and it is likely that the crowd has never been greater on any day in the resort's history. A number of excursions were run to the Island yesterday from points in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington and other points, and more than half a million people viewed the wonders of the rejuvenated resort.

The beach was thronged during the day, and nearly all the big bath houses were forced to close up early in the day, as all their suits had been hired out and the rooms taken.

Dr. Couney's incubators at Dreamland have now the smallest baby which has ever been received in any like institution and it is claimed that no record of a child of its size having lived over a few hours, exists. Dr. C. S. Patterson, brought the little fellow from Brooklyn yesterday. He was swathed in cotton and weight just 1 pound and 6 ounces, being 11 1/2 inches tall. It is too small to be put into the incubators and is being fed by hand. Frequent inhalations of oxygen are necessary to keep its little heart beating. Dr. Couney said yesterday that it had a very good fighting chance for its life.


Martin Couney's business card.


Cover of a Coney Island tourist booklet. Undated, but appears to be from the late 1930's or early 1940's.

Image of the Incubator exhibit from the same Coney Island tourist booklet. Caption: "Life begins at the BABY INCUBATORS. Here trained nurses care for premature and weakly born infants. For forty years the Baby Incubators have attracted the attention of men, women, and children. An educational journey through a spotless, strictly hygienic, miniature hospital. It is housed on the Boardwalk adjacent to the entrance of Steeplechase Park."


Martin Couney
Incubator-Baby Sideshows, from Pediatrics
A Patron of the Premies, from The New Yorker
"And Next to the Bearded Ladies..." from The New York Times (captured as PDF)
The Coney Island Baby Laboratory, from American Heritage Invention and Technology Magazine (captured as PDF)
American Characters: Martin Couney, from American Heritage Magazine (captured as PDF)
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Created 1/29/1999 / Last modified 7/1/2015
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