(Look Back is an occasional series with content and images from the Atlantic County Historical Society.)
From 1905 to 1978, one of the most exciting attractions at Steel Pier was the Diving Horse, who with a rider would dive into a 12-foot tank in front of a live audience.
The idea for the stunt was invented by "Doctor" William Frank Carver, a 19th century sharpshooter who toured the wild west organizing shows with trained animals and shooting exhibitions. He used Quarter Horses, which are smaller than thoroughbreds and usually live to about 40 years old.
Horses would dive four times a day, seven days a week and were kept in great shape and fed well in stalls just off the Music Hall auditorium. The original rider, Sonora Carver, had an accident in 1931 when she hit the water first and suffered a detached retina. She continued riding for another 11 years. In all the years the act was performed, no horses were ever injured, and one year even a mule was used.
The act began with the horse running up a ramp, at which point the rider would jump aboard the horse and then wait for the horse to jump. On some occasions, the horse would wait up to five minutes before taking the plunge.
Pressure from animal rights activists and declining attendance led to the act being closed in 1978. In 2015, there was talk of it being resurrected, but instead was replaced by a Ferris wheel.
Founded in 1913, the Atlantic County Historical Society has been preserving historical materials in its library and museum since. Every week, Wednesday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., it opens its doors to share these collections with anyone who is interested. The society building is at 907 Shore Road in Somers Point. More information is available at www.atlanticcountyhistoricalsocietynj.org and on Facebook, or by calling 609-927-5218.