The Strange Story Of How A Mysterious Coney Island Showman Saved The Lives Of Millions Of Babies

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Image: Detroit Publishing Co. / Beth Allen

On May 23, 1941, Beth Allen came into the world three months prematurely – weighing just 1lb 10oz. And tragically, her twin, who had been born with insufficiently developed lungs, ultimately passed away. But there was hope for Beth, medics explained, if her mother took her to see a Coney Island showman…

Image: via Wikimedia Commons

Perched in the New York borough of Brooklyn, Coney Island was then one of the foremost attractions in the U.S. Drawing millions of visitors annually, the beachside resort was home at the time to gaudy sideshows and rollercoasters. It was therefore an incongruous place to seek neonatal care – perhaps why Beth’s mother initially refused to take her newborn daughter to the area.

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Image: via Theme Park Insider

What’s more, the individual who Beth’s mom had been suggested to visit seemed an unlikely purveyor of medical expertise. Clad in a straw boater hat, he was often found outside his Coney Island exhibition drumming up custom. But the man in question was in fact a pioneer and a philanthropist. And his unconventional contribution to neonatology helped to save the lives of countless babies.

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