Steel Pier's fondly-remembered Diving Bell attraction now sits outside the entrance to the Atlantic City Aquarium at Historic Gardner's Basin.
The famous Steel Pier Diving Bell emerges with a thrust to the surface. Spectators watching could hear the excited passengers through speakers. The ride took place near the Ocean end of the pier.
While most famous for its Diving Horse act, Steel Pier was also known by many generations of vacationers and locals for another "diving" attraction - the Diving Bell. Originally opened in 1928, the Bell was designed by Edward Martine, a California-based welder who had similar bells in place on the west coast. For a mere 25 cents - or, in the ride's later days, $1.00 - riders would plunge into the ocean waters off Steel Pier to observe the depths below, before being thrust upwards again when the ride's mechanisms were released and the Bell rose to the surface on its natural buoyancy. Many riders recall the ascent as the best feature of the attraction, as the views of the ocean depths usually only featured algae growing on nearby pilings. However, Barton Beck, Jr., a former operator of the ride, attested in an Atlantic City Press interview that the journey was still interesting, as "it was sort of eerie." He also noted that "Sometimes you could see sea bass, mullet, dog sharks... every now and then a flounder would be disturbed..."
The Diving Bell ride lasted five minutes. The Bell also contained a microphone which fed to speakers on the pier's deck, so riders could send "messages from the deep" to their friends above. The ride was refurbished twice - once when the Bell was damaged in the Hurricane of 1944 and repaired, and again following the destructive March 1962 storm, when a runaway barge struck Steel Pier and sliced out a 400-foot section of it. The original Diving Bell was lost at sea and has never been found, but another Martine-designed Bell which had previously operated on Catalina Island in California was shipped to Atlantic City to replace it.
The Diving Bell stopped operating in 1978, and was removed from Steel Pier in 1986. It was sent to a scrapyard, but luckily was saved from destruction when a demolition firm donated it to Gardner's Basin in 1989. Today, the Bell welcomes visitors to the Atlantic City Aquarium, where another kind of underwater observation takes place. Two of the Bell's windows have been engraved, in the memory of Thomas L. Glenn and of Barney Marion, who worked as a Steel Pier electrician from 1949-1975.
For more information, see articles from:
Atlantic City Press, February 2, 1989, February 16, 1986 and June 17, 1962