Sunday, 17 May 2015

The Curio - All The Pretty Pier Horses: Sonora Carver and the Diving Steeds of Atlantic City

The astounding Sonora Webster Carver was a huge attraction amongst the sideshow on the legendary Steel Pier, during Atlantic City's heyday in the 1920s and early 1930s, famous for ... erm leaping from a huge tower on the pier into a tank sixty feet below .... on the back of a horse! ... Yap that word is 'HORSE'!!!

The bravest woman of all time .... or a chick even more batshit crazy thanSarah Palin? You decide!!

The Steel Pier was opened on June 18 1898, originally built by the Quakers, as a private resort. However, it was soon open to the public and advertised as “the handsomest and most luxuriously appointed pier in the world”! This was no idle boast!

(click to view)

The venue’s most fondly remembered act began in the 1920s and 1930s, the brainchild of one Dr W. F. Carver, a noted sportsman after a freakish brush with near fatal danger.

Dr. Carver was returning home on horseback one night in 1924. The bridge he was crossing collapsed and his horse plunged forty feet into a raging river. The horse magically executed a well-balanced dive and both swam safely to shore.

Dr Carver wondered later whether a horse could be trained to do this! Dogs could certainly be trained to dive … but horses?... Horses??

Well, it turned out they could! Thus, soon after, was begat the greatest AC attraction of all. An attraction that in fact toured the country to huge audiences and no little hysteria.

One of the original riders - and certainly the most famous rider of all - was Sonora Webster - who would go on to become Dr Carver’s daughter-in-law. Her husband Al Carver had been the original horseman but Sonora, being a female rider, drew even bigger crowds. She soon made her performance a climactic part of the thrilling show.

Her job was to mount a running horse as it reached the top of a tower of forty to sixty-foot in height and sail down along the animal's back as it plunged into a deep pool of water directly below.

Sonora was a sensation and soon became the lead diving girl for Doc Carver's act as they travelled the country.

At first Dr. Carver had thought that Sonora Webster, who had her heart set on riding the horses, was too small for the task and he gave her a job as a stable hand. But she persisted, and was finally given the chance to fulfill her dream. Her sister Annette was also a rider of the diving horses.

Sadly - yet perhaps unsurprisingly given the shocking dangers involved - tragedy struck Sonora in 1931. After a bad dive she was very badly hurt. She suffered detached retinas and was blinded.

Incredibly, however, she continued to take part in the show for another ten years!!

Sonora published her memoirs in 1961 in a tome entitled ‘A Girl and Five Brave Horses’, which inspired the film ‘Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken’ about Carver and the diving horses.

Sonora lived on to the mighty age of 99, passing away in 2003 in Pleasantville New Jersey. She had been blind for 72 of those years.

tx Susan MacDonald

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