HEALTH

Infant who survived in 1920s sideshow incubator dies at 96

Lucille Conlin Horn weighed barely two pounds when she was born, a perilous size for any infant, especially in 1920. Doctors told her parents to hold off on a funeral for her twin sister who had died at birth, expecting she too would soon be gone.

But her life spanned nearly a century after her parents put their faith in a sideshow doctor at Coney Island who put babies on display in incubators to fund his research to keep them alive.

The Brooklyn-born woman who later moved to Long Island, New York, died Feb. 11 at age 96, according to the Hungerford & Clark Funeral Home. She had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

Horn was among thousands of premature babies who were treated in the early 20th century by Dr. Martin Couney. He was a pioneer in the use of incubators who sought acceptance for the technology by showing it off on carnival midways, fairs and other public venues. He never accepted money from their parents, but instead charged oglers admission to see the tiny infants struggling for life.

Horn and her twin were born prematurely in Brooklyn. She told The Associated Press in a 2015 interview that when her sister died, doctors told her father to hold off on a funeral because tiny Lucille, would not survive the day.

"He said, 'Well that's impossible, she's alive now. We have to do something for her,'" Horn said. "My father wrapped me in a towel and took me in a cab to the incubator; I went to Dr. Couney. I stayed with him quite a few days; almost five months."

Couney, who died in 1950 and is viewed today as a pioneer in neonatology, estimated that he successfully kept alive about 7,500 of the 8,500 children that were taken to his "baby farm" at the Coney Island boardwalk. They remained there until the early 1940s, when the incubators became widely used in hospitals.

He also put infants on display at the World's Fair and other public venues during his career. There is no estimate on how many still are alive today.

Horn worked as a crossing guard and then as a legal secretary for her husband. She is survived by three daughters and two sons. She said she met Couney when she was about 19 and thanked him for what he had done.

"I've had a good life," she said in 2015.

After a funeral Tuesday, she was buried at the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn, next to her twin sister.