Boardwalk Babies

Boardwalk Babies

March 2021 Shop Indie Bookstores

In the late 19th century, there wasn't much hope for premature babies - until Dr. Couney developed the incubator. The device was so new and strange, hospitals rejected it. So Dr. Couney set up a sideshow at Coney Island, taking care of the tiniest newborns as part of a display to convince the public that incubators worked. Thousands of babies grew into healthy children as Boardwalk Babies, including Dr. Couney's own premature daughter. Many of those babies came back as adults to thank the doctor for his miracle cures. Science meets magic show in this fascinating true story.


Kids will be amazed to learn that a "Baby Incubator" exhibit opened at Coney Island in 1903, attracting huge crowds. Spectators flocked to ogle tiny newborns and the groundbreaking technology --the "warming boxes" themselves-- designed to keep premature babies alive. Back then, medical wisdom held that tiny, fragile newborns couldn't survive, and hospitals, skeptical of newfangled machines, wouldn't use them. German-born Dr. Martin Couney believed otherwise. His own mentor in Paris had suggested using incubators for preemies, and Couney at first demonstrated the machines without babies at the Berlin Exposition of 1896. In order to help the public better understand that they really worked effectively, Couney then placed infants in them. This enhanced exhibit succeeded wildly, and the babies survived. In 1903, Couney established what became a permanent preemie hospital display, complete with incubators, on Coney Island's boardwalk. The newborns received round-the-clock nursing care, with admission fees paying for food, treatment, equipment, and medical personnel; it closed in 1943. This smoothly written account of little-known events results in a heartwarming story that will help develop audience empathy. Appealing illustrations capture the period and ambiance nicely and depict winsome infants of different races and ethnicities. A thought-provoking telling of an unusual historical episode. (author's note, select bibliography) (Informational picture book. 6-9) -- Kirkus Reviews

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