Premature Babies Were Put on Display at Coney Island for over 40 Years

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coney island premature babies

Could you imagine being in a situation where you had to do something like this?For a period of more than 40 years, the residents of New York were faced with a heart breaking decision if they were unfortunate enough to have a premature baby. For nearly half a century the only option for parents of premature babies was to send them to Coney Island where people would be charged 25 cents to look at the poor unfortunate babies. This itself does of course raise several questions. Firstly, why on earth send delicate babies to become freak shows, and secondly, who would pay to see a baby born too early? The answers will likely surprise you.

Before you begin to judge the parents for distasteful actions, you have to keep in mind that it was a different period of time, and the parents involved were good people with the best intentions of their children at heart. In essence, the parents only had two choices. Either take their premature baby to Coney Island, or allow it to die. What would any good parent do?

It all started in 1898 when the incubator was introduced to America. They became a popular item at expositions, and that persuaded Dr. Martin Couney to purchase some and place them on display along the Boardwalk of Coney Island. It was here that they became popular with desperate parents, as there were no neo-natal units within New York. The display became a display of necessity.

For over 40 years the incubators remained on display at Coney Island for the viewing public. The going rate to see one being used by a premature baby was 25 cents. This covered the cost of running and maintaining the equipment. But this does raise one important question. Who would pay to see a poor premature baby at Coney Island?

There were two types of people wanting to see the displays. One ype was the health care professional, who could gain useful insights in how the relatively new contraption worked. The other was just the average person who was intrigued with something they weren’t familiar with. No harm was ever intended by these people, they just had never witnessed or experienced anything like it before. They were just simply curious.

Throughout the 40 years that the incubators were on display at Coney Island, it is estimated that they saved the lives of about 6,000 children. That’s over 150 babies every year who would have otherwise likely died.


coney island premature babies


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