Captain Boyton and His Rubber Suit
Adventurer and amusement park owner Paul Boyton was born on this day in 1848 in either Dublin, Ireland or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Boyton gained world-wide renown for his ocean exploits performed while wearing a floating, air-tight rubber suit, designed with the help of C.S. Merriman. In 1874, notably, he jumped overboard into heavy seas from a transatlantic ship wearing the suit, a day's sail away from Ireland, and paddled himself -- feet first, kayak style -- back to Cork. His navigation of the Mississippi River in a similar fashion made headlines in the U.S.
As a paid mercenary, he swam in the service of the Peruvian government in 1885, attaching explosives to a Chilean man-of-war in the dead of night; the grateful Peruvians awarded him the rank of "Captain." Upon his return to the U.S., he helped to organize the United States Life-Saving Service, a precursor to the Coast Guard, and briefly served as captain of the Atlantic City ocean life-savers. In 1892, he published a popular memoir of his exploits in the water, The Story of Paul Boyton.
After his arrival in New York City in 1895, he bought 16 acres behind the Elephant Hotel in Coney Island, and opened Sea Lion Park, the first outdoor amusement park in the world. The park was best known for its Shoot-the-Chutes ride, in which flat-bottomed toboggan boats slid down a steep slide into a broad lagoon. Boyton also entertained guests with his 40 trained sea lions, a la Sea World, and with demonstrations of his famous rubber suit. The park enjoyed a modest success for a few years, overshadowed by George Tilyou's gigantic Steeplechase Park.
After a dismal rainy summer season left him financially hobbled in 1902, he sold the business and lived the rest of his years quietly (and mostly on dry land), and died April 19, 1924 in Brooklyn, New York.