The diving horse has taken its last plunge at the Steel Pier amusement park in Atlantic City.
Anthony Catanoso, owner of the iconic park, decided that what's happened in Atlantic City's past should stay in the past. Catanoso scrapped plans for the diving horse's comeback amid cries of outraged animal rights advocates.
Catanoso claimed that he didn't want that [negativity] to interfere with the positive things we're trying to do.
The controversy began on Feb. 4 when the Steel Pier released a statement saying it would bring the amusement park back to its original glory as the Showpiece of the Nation by including the diving horse in its three-year, $100 million expansion.
In the course of making the decision to include the diving horse, Steel Pier Associates conducted significant research into past practices, including speaking with people who were directly involved in the act that occurred in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, the organization said. Through this research, we determined there was no animal cruelty or abuse that occurred in the past. The new act will be humane, provide the horses first class care, operate under modern safety standards to protect both the riders and the horses and will not subject the horses to cruelty.
For the past 20 years, we have been dedicated to providing wholesome family entertainment in Atlantic City, the organization added. We are committed to that goal and would never feature any act that would mistreat an animal.
The diving horse was to be one of the centerpieces of the revitalized Steel Pier, in addition to an acrobatics arena, new thrill-seeking rides, new food court and arcade area, nightclub, museum, retail entertainment space, and a 2,000-seat ballroom.
The diving horse act involves the animal climbing atop a 40-foot-tall platform. The surface is then tipped and the horse and rider plunge into a 12-foot-deep water tank. Extremely rare in the U.S. today, the act remains legal.
Diving horses first appeared at New Jersey's Steel Pier in the 1920s, but the act was shuttered five decades later. A brief revival by Catanoso in 1993 with mules and no humans ended soon after it began - again due to loud protests.
Over 50,000 people signed online petitions on change.org this past week denouncing the practice and Catanoso was forced to abandon his plan again.
I knew we had a chance to stop Steel Pier from reopening the diving horse shows, but I didn't know in less than two weeks 50,000 people would sign the petition and get this shut down, said Jennifer Mishler, the woman who created the online campaign.
The Editorial Board of the Star-Ledger, New Jersey's largest newspaper, chimed in saying: No one wants to buy bathtub hootch or dodge bullets from Al Capone on the Boardwalk today. The horse diving act belongs in the same ash bin of history. We're glad the owners of the Steel Pier came to the same conclusion.
Animal rights groups also welcomed the news.
This is a merciful end to a colossally stupid idea, Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement emailed to IBTimes. We are pleased so many citizens spoke up and urged that this spectacle never get off the ground. Horse diving has the potential to frighten and injure and kill horses, and it rightly belongs in Atlantic City's history books.
Atlantic City, the second-biggest gambling market after Las Vegas, has fallen on hard times in the last decade as its legendary casinos face growing competition from other East Coast rivals and the city deals with a growing crime rate.
Catanoso hoped to capitalize on Atlantic City's edgy past immortalized in HBO's hit Prohibition-era drama Boardwalk Empire. However he learned the hard way that some bits of nostalgia are best left in the past.