During the early twentieth century, a show called “The Great Carver Show” became center of attraction at the Atlantic City’s Steel Pier. This queer and bizarre show involved a horse with a young lady in a swimsuit on its back, jumping from a high platform into a pool of water below. The platforms were set as high as 60ft and the horse had to jump into a tank just 12 ft deep. Just for comparison, professional divers competing in Olympics and other World Championships, dive from a height of 32.8 ft into a 16 feet deep pool.
The show was dangerous yet extremely popular, attracting a multitude of crowd. Perhaps this is ‘what’ was considered entertainment in those days. The act of the show was simple, the horse would walk up a platform raising to a height varying from 30-60 feet. The rider would mount the horse and then the duo will take the leap of faith and dive into a pool of water below.
The idea of the show was developed by William Doc Carver. He claims that this idea came into being due to a mishap. Carver was once crossing a bridge over Plate River in Nebraska and suddenly, the bridge collapsed. His horse jumped into the water instantaneously. By the time, the horse was paddling towards the shore, Carver used his experience to develop the idea of the act of “Diving Horse” as a means of entertainment.
While Carver had a detailed blueprint of the “Diving Horse” as a commercial show in his mind, he knew that he had no future as a performer. As a result, he convinced his daughter, Lorena, to take up the practice with the horses.
The horses were trained to dive three to four times on performance days. Each horse was unique and had its own style of diving. One of the horses, would stand for 5 minutes and watch seagulls pass by and then dive. While there was another horse who would simply rush up to the platform and jump without stopping or waiting for the diver. Once he went too fast and out-jumped the pool, he was retired thereafter.
Sonora Webster joined Carver’s show in 1924 as a horse jumper, and eventually married Carver’s son. After the creator’s death in 1927, they took the show on the road, finally settling it as a main attraction on Steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where it was wildly successful.
In 1931, Sonora was permanently blinded by the impact from a botched jump. She was hardly discouraged, though. Her blindness simply enhanced the spectacle of the show as she continued diving for another decade.
Concerns over animal wellbeing caused a decrease in show popularity in the second half of the 20th century. Still, the horse diving show continued into the late 1970s before being shut down because of the decaying condition of Steel Pier.