Posted by: philipfontana | February 18, 2012

Diving Horse!

Return of the Steel Pier’s Diving Horse!

What do you think?

Click on Comment!


(words as on back of 1958 postcard) “The Steel Pier Diving Horses have been a feature of the Steel Pier for years. Never coaxed, driven or urged, these horses dive of their own free will.”

    Sunday, February 12, 2012: The Sunday Star-Ledger carried a front page story that the owner of the famous Atlantic City Steel Pier planned the return of the diving horses as soon as this summer! The “diving horse act” consisted of a horse with male or female rider, in bathing suit, walking up a ramp 40 feet high and plunging into a pool of water 12 feet deep. The news report stated that talk of revival of the attraction ranged from “excitement” to “disgust and vitriol from animal activists.” The Humane Society of the United States denounced the horse act. Anthony Catanoso, owner of the Steel Pier, apparently, thought the return of the diving horse act was in the spirit of the Casino Re-investment Development Authority’s plans to revitalize Atlantic City’s tourism district. He saw the return of the diving horse as a grand finale to an entertainment show, including divers and acrobats, he has planned for a new amphitheater on the Steel Pier.


(words as on back of 1958 postcard) “A trip to the end of the Steel Pier-a half mile at sea has all the thrill of an ocean voyage with none of the discomforts. Truly an amusement enterprise without equal anywhere, since one price admits to all attractions.”

A little history: The actual diving horse routine was developed way back in the 1890’s by a frontiersman and sharpshooter of the Wild West, William Frank “Doc” Carver. But it wasn’t until the 1920’s that the act came to the Atlantic City Boardwalk. The diving horse act continued until the 1970’s when Resorts International bought the Steel Pier, ending the act. There was a brief return of the act to the Steel Pier the summer of 1993, leasing the Pier from the new owners, the Trump organization. This time a miniature horse, a mule, and a dog were used. But protesters and public pressure brought an end to the show before Labor Day 1993. And that was the last demise of the act until now.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012: The Star-Ledger reported that Atlantic City’s Steel Pier amusement park had decided on Tuesday to terminate plans for the return of the legendary diving horse to the Boardwalk. It took just two days from the announcement of the plan for the owners to do an “about face” due to the protests of animal activist groups. Anthony Catanoso, Steel Pier owner, said the plan had support at all levels of government. However, the on-line petition against the act already had 47,000 signatures as of Tuesday. But, Catanoso firmly stated that the other preparations for the amphitheater and show will go ahead as planned.


(same words as on back of first postcard on this by night version, 1958)

What is your opinion? Click on “comment”: Do you think the diving horse should have returned to the Steel Pier in Atlantic City? And/or, do you remember seeing the diving horse in Atlantic City?

Excuse us for living, but my wife and I have been cruising the streets of AC for no less than 40 years now. And the blight of the neighborhoods won’t be cured by the return of the diving horse! Animal cruelty trumps, no doubt about it. But what is really needed is what we used to call “urban renewal” to revitalize, refurbish, and rebuild the city as you move away from the strip of Boardwalk. This was the original promise of bringing gambling and casino hotels to Atlantic City in 1978, first with Resorts Casino Hotel, i.e., that the city as a whole would benefit. Instead, free parking garages were replaced by $2 to $5 and more parking fees as dedicated money to improve the city.

Full disclosure, I have fond memories as a four year old visiting Atlantic City in 1951. Remember that, Sister Vivian? You were just five! We made the vacation trip with our parents, naturally, and our grandmother as well. And, the fondest memories besides salt water taffy on the Boardwalk? –The Steel Pier! We plunged below the ocean in the “Diving Bell,” a primitive round submarine-type vehicle. –And we watched in awe a mini-circus show from a grandstand across the water with diving clowns! But the high point of our stay was (…are you ready?…) witnessing the “Diving Horse”!

Excuse us for living.


  1. Very nice blog

    • Janet! Thanks, oh, thanks!!! “Work Fun”! Phil

  2. My opinion? I think people can find other forms of entertainment other than a diving horse! Something can and will go wrong-
    as you can tell, I am a big animal lover and never knew horses LOVED the water that much….but having said that—-bring something else to the table other than a diving horse.
    margaret k

    • Margaret! You are so right!!! What is not mentioned is that those horses never took a dive! The end of the ramp was slanted toward the water! Phil

  3. You have some memory Phil, you would think I would recall this “happening”. I probably felt the same way at five years old as I do now……” no don’t let that happen again please, no diving horses”. As children we somtimes block out experiences we fear……..Urban renewal please for the surrounding area, that’s my vote.
    Your sister,

  4. Having recently returned to live in NJ, and fairly close to AC at that, revitalization sounds wonderful. however, diving horses should remain an old and faded memory. The idea of witnessing such an act horrified me. It’s just not right. I don’t go to circuses for that reason.

    Phil, you are doing a great job with your blog. You should definitely set up a FB account and have your “friends” “like” it and have their friends “like” it. Several of my friends have blogs and this seems to work for them. All the best!

    • Vivian! Thanks so much for the nice comments! And you are so right! What a barbaric amusement right up there with chicken fights! How about “kill di bull”! Having trouble with FB & need help/advice. Got “in & out” back in 2008 & it won’t let me navigate. Need my techy sons’ help. Agreed, FB is the way to go. Thanks! Phil

  5. Howdy Phil,
    Interesting sentiments about critters. As you know I live where free roaming chickens come visit quite often. Now, some might consider them pets. I call several by name when they peck their way into the garage scratching for something to eat. Quite the attractions and amusement for a simple quy like me. Mom use to tell me stories of the critters that would grace their ward in Wilkesbare,PA. back in the early 30’s. They ended up in pots for soup after they laying days were over. Cruelty? I think not. The horse that takes the dive, gets fed, cared for and remembered by many. In many lands they are used for food. Excuse us for living. AC as I recall and agree with you was in rough shape only a couple blocks off the boardwalk. The many residents did not have as good living conditions as the horse. A bit Barbaric but, we are an unusual species in our own right. Keep up the great work. As Archie Bunker might say. “Those were the Days”.

    • John, Great stories about Mom & PA! You’re right. They DID care for those diving horses. However, the final yards of the ramp slanted towards the water! And right again about the streets of AC away from the Boardwalk! Achie’s “Those Were The Days” would make a good John Pacheco blog site!!! Good one! Phil

  6. Hi Uncle Phil!
    Wow! I can’t believe mom never shared these memories with me! Well, probably because she knew I would have been upset. I agree with everyone, keep the horse and rider on the ground! I have been riding horses for most of my life, and I know that this event was extremely dangerous for both the horse and the rider. There are many other forms of entertainment that we can come up with, let’s not force an animal (that has no choice in the matter) to “jump”. Just imagine how frightening and traumatic that could be!
    If anyone really needs to see this event, rent the movie “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken”. It’s a Disney movie. (it was actually one of my favorite movies as a little girl) It’s based on a true story about a girl named Sonora Webster and her life ambition to travel to Atlantic City and dive horses. It is a great story, but it just shows you what a dangerous event this really is.


    • Jenn! You & Bernadette would be the # 1 candidates to be appalled by the diving horses!!! Your Mom has no memory of it all, she says, & thinks she may have been sick & “back in the room” with our grandmother (MomMom’s mother!). Anyway, a terrible practice that went on from the 1920’s to 1978 in AC…amazing they got away with it for that long! Shame on us!!!! You are so right about traumatizing the horses. Apparently, the 40′ ramp up to the so called “dive” ended with a slant towards the water!!!! So what “dive”???!!! I’m shocked there was a Disney movie about this!!!! Great of you to respond! Thanks! Uncle Phil

  7. What a strange thing to do! Diving with your horse, I never knew this existed.
    Very interesting blog, Phil. My opinion? Against diving with horses, unless when it’s a seahorse of course. 😉
    Lots of love and hugz!

  8. Patty, Agreed. Today this seems very strange. But when I was a boy & saw this in person, it was like a circus act & atmosphere. Thank goodness they put a stop to bringing it back!!! Phil

  9. “the plan had support at all levels of government”–except, of course, the “we the people” part of government!………

    • Russel, It was a wrong headed idea to try to bring this back ib this day & age with animal activists & just common sense & love for animals! Phil

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    • Cazare, Sorry for the inconvenience. First complaint I’ve received. Appreciate you telling me. I have been dealing with a virus which is now cleaned up. Also sweeping clean my computer soon & installing a new program. Thanks! Phil

  11. I saw this once when I was a kid and I felt so sorry for the horse!

  12. pg, Wow you saw this!!!!!!!!!! I was four years old when I saw this in Atlantic City as my post describes! Agreed….very cruel! Thanks! Phil

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