In 1960 when I was nine years old I went to the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey. My great aunts and great uncles loved to drive down to the shore on Sundays and spend the day walking on the boardwalk and this Sunday my mother, brother and I went along with them.
The main attraction was the famous Diving Horse. I kid you not. There was actually a horse that would dive off of a tower about 60 feet in the air into a large pool. Usually, there was a woman sitting on the horse’s back, but sometimes the horse would take the leap by himself.
I can remember it as if I saw it yesterday. I remember holding my breath until I saw the horse surface and swim to the edge. I was always afraid that the horse would not survive.
As the horse dove off of the tower, you could hear the gasps of the onlookers. It was as though everyone held their breath until they saw the horse moving in the pool. Then the cheers would ring out and the sound of clapping was almost deafening.
The other attraction on the Steel Pier was the Diving Bell. It was a ride that would plunge into the ocean when the mechanism was released, it would pop up onto the surface. The ride lasted only five minutes. I wanted to go on that ride so much. But my mother, who was a big baby about rides and such, would not let me go on it. Maybe it had something to do with the microphones inside the bell that broadcasted the riders screams. I don’t know. I do remember my mother bribing me with salt water taffy, cotton candy, and popcorn so that I would stop begging to go on it.
The original bell was lost at sea in the March 1962 storm when a barge broke away and took out a 400-foot section of the pier. It makes me sad that the famous diving bell that I so wanted to ride on is sitting at the bottom of the ocean off the shore of New Jersey encrusted with barnacles and the home of sea bass, mullet, dog sharks, and flounder.