Sea space and science nature as frontier

One of the most common ways in which Coney Island's showmen packaged nature for public consumption would later become something of an archetype in the amusement business: nature as a frontier of geographical exploration. The precursors to such modern amusement industry standards as Space Mountain, Sea World, Busch Gardens, and Pirates of the Caribbean could be found in many of Coney's early rides, from Luna's "Trip to the Moon" and "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" to Dreamland's "Trip in an Airship" and "Over the Great Divide"—cycloramas which produced the illusion of spectacular, exotic, and sometimes perilous travel to the far reaches of known or imagined geographical space through a combination of light, sound, and mechanical motion. Thompson and Dundy's "Trip to the Moon", which debuted at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo before moving to Steeplechase the following year and eventually providing the cornerstone for the opening of Luna Park in 1903, took patrons on a spectacular journey to the moon on a winged ship called "Luna". In a similar vein, Luna Park's "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" comprised a submarine ride to the North Pole, replete with live seals and polar bears reclining on an iceberg, as well as an "Eskimo Village".

One of the most extraordinary side shows in Coney Island's history hinged upon nature not as a fantastical or geographical frontier, but as a scientific and technological one. From 1904 to 1943, first Dreamland and later Luna Park hosted an exhibit of Premature Baby Incubators, a phenomenon that was founded at the 1896 Berlin Exposition as the Kinderbrutanstalt ("child hatchery") by Dr Martin Arthur Couney, who eventually moved it to its permanent home in Coney Island. Couney turned to expositions as a venue for displaying (and funding) his invention, the first mechanical incubator for human infants, after encountering little enthusiasm for the project among the European or American medical communities (Adams 1991:50-51). Despite an initial outcry from the

Brooklyn Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Couney's exhibit was approved by the American Medical Association and took up residence in Luna Park in a fully-equipped preemie ward furnished with nurses to oversee daily operations, wet nurses to feed the infants, and lecturers to explain the technical details to the visiting public, in addition to the machines which regulated incubator temperature and filtered in a constant supply of clean air. Such units were not common in American hospitals at the time, even when the technology was available, and as a consequence some 8,000 premature babies were brought to Coney Island to be nursed through their precarious first months. Over the course of its 39-year run, Couney's exhibit saved the lives of over 6,500 of them (many of whom held reunions at Coney Island for years afterward), including his own daughter, and was a smash hit with the public—particularly childless women, many of whom would return again and again to follow the fortunes of particular infants that had caught their eye (Adams 1991:51-52).

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