In the 1930’s, Atlantic City’s Steel Pier was better known as the “Showplace of the Nation.” Along side a water-skiing canine named Rex the Wonder Dog, the diving horse was always the crowd stealer of New Jersey.
Plummeting from a 40 foot drop, the Steel Pier’s brave steeds would plunge into 12 foot tanks and resurface to endless applause. From the 1920s to the 1970s this single act would make the pier about as famous as its frequent musical guests like Frank Sinatra and Al Jolson. Men, women, children- people rolled in by the thousands; times were good.
It’s the memories of this family orientated success that made Anthony Catanoso, whose family owns the historic pier; want to bring the diving horse act back toNew Jersey. But times have changed, and so has Catanoso’s vision for the pier, and this time it’s a horseless one.
Catanoso has tried to bring the act back before. In 1993, he revived the horse dive, which again people flocked to see. But despite its success, the attraction brought just as much negative attention as it did positive. The act shut down after 2 months of protest by animal-welfare activists.
A month ago, as part of a $100 million renovation project for the entire Steel Pier, Catanoso attempted to bring the dive act back again. After extensive research, including speaking with past performers, Catanoso concluded in press release that no horse was ever harmed in a dive. He further clarified that “the new act will be humane, provide the horses first class care, operate under modern safety standards to protect both the riders and the horses and will not subject the horses to cruelty.”
One day and 10,000 petition signatures later, Catanoso would realize that his findings wouldn’t sway the mass opinion of his coveted diving horse act. He announced the cancellation of its return on Tuesday.
Despite that the Diving Horse was one of the biggest aspects of the makeover, plans for renovation will continue without a new water tank. The construction period is expected to take 3 ½ years and will make the pier into a year-round attraction. Some work is already under way. Six new rides, various new games, new food and beverage kiosks, a beer garden, and a resurfacing of the pier floor are expected to be complete by this summer.
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