The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies
In 1939, a young woman came to the World of
Tomorrow, New York's World's Fair
, to meet Dr. Martin Couney.
The two had already crossed paths 19 years earlier. "I'm a baby of yours,"
she told him. As an infant, she'd been delivered to Couney's incubator
sideshow, hopelessly underweight. Now, she was a healthy woman studying to
become a nurse—and her success story was one of many for Couney. With
his incubators and painstaking care, before countless audiences at world's fairs,
Coney Island and Atlantic City, Couney is estimated to have saved between 6,500
and 7,000 babies over his long career. Raffel's sprawling history tells the
story of the Jewish immigrant, née Cohn, a showman who would reinvent
himself as the good "doctor," with the slogan "All the world loves
a baby." Some of the crowd-pleasing antics were unseemly—nurses
would slide a diamond ring up an infant's arm for scale—but for most
parents, it was their only option. One of his tiniest rescues weighed between 1
1/2 and 2 pounds at birth (the hospital doctors, assuming her too weak to live,
hadn't bothered with precise measurements). Couney told a reporter, "I
think I love her as much as her parent."