Martin Couney

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Encouraged by his success in Chicago, Couney built a lavish pink pavilion for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. For the first time, he lost money; the public had at last begun to tire of incubator babies. It was the same story back at Coney. “Thirty-five years ago I could do more business with 60,000 visitors than I can do with 500,000 now,” Couney complained in 1940. “Coney Island is so degraded now—even the hot dogs cost only a nickel—that people bargain to see my babies.” Couney had never taken money from the parents of a premature baby, and he refused to start now. But he did lower his admission price by a nickel. Nothing helped. He hung on for a few seasons on the boardwalk to keep up his standing as a showman, but attendance dwindled. When, in the mid-forties, Cornell’s New York Hospital opened the first center for premature infant care in the city, Couney shut down his show forever. “I made propaganda for the preemie,” he said. “My work is done.”