Lucille Horn, who as an infant was among an early generation that survived the long odds of premature birth by spending months in a sideshow incubator at Coney Island, died Feb. 11 of Alzheimer’s disease.
The Long Beach resident was 96.
Doctors gave Horn no chance of surviving when she was born with a twin on May 16, 1920, her daughter Barbara Horn of Long Beach said. Lucille Horn’s twin sister died shortly after birth, and Horn weighed just 2 pounds.
Her father, the late Woolsey Wells Conlin, would not accept the inevitable. Instead, he wrapped his daughter in a blanket and took her to a sideshow he’d seen at Coney Island that charged visitors 25 cents to see a new phenomenon: tiny premature-birth babies kept alive in the warm, steady temperature of incubators. At the time, hospitals did not approve of them. The admission was used to fund the infants’ care.
Horn thrived, and later in her life visited the sideshow and the doctor who saved her, according to an account on National Public Radio.
Barbara Horn said her mother “always felt very fortunate and grateful” for the critical months she spent under the care of Dr. Martin Couney, who pioneered the incubators. The devices now are standard hospital equipment.
Horn even hosted an “incubator-baby” party at her home three years ago for eight other survivors. “She talked about the incubators all through her life,” Barbara Horn said.
Medical miracles didn’t end for Horn in the incubator. She was among the early U.S. patients of Dr. John Insal, who pioneered the artificial knee, receiving new knees in 1985 and 1986. They kept her walking well into her 90s, her daughter said.
Horn was born and raised in Brooklyn, went to Erasmus Hall High School, and met and married her husband, Clarence E. Horn Jr., in the borough. The couple married in 1942, and moved to Freeport in 1950. He was a lawyer in Rockville Centre, and Lucille Horn, after raising her five children and working as a Freeport crossing guard, later worked as his legal secretary. She converted to Catholicism at marriage and was a longtime congregant of Our Holy Redeemer Roman Catholic Church in Freeport.
Lucille Horn led an active social life, always quick to say yes when visitors needed a place to stay. “She just really appreciated people and had a basic happiness,” Barbara Horn said. “She tried to say yes to life. She was always welcoming. ‘Bring the dog,’ she’d say.”
She loved to shop, particularly for shoes at Nordstrom’s, and took a special interest in her daughter’s work in Sept. 11 commemoration events, helping in recent years in an annual flag-folding ceremony in lower Manhattan.
She was preceded in death by a sister, Jane Northridge.
In addition to her daughter, Lucille Horn is survived by sons Lance Horn of Largo, Florida and Paul Horn of Irvine, California; two other daughters, Julie Horn of Reno and Clare Horn of Riverdale; a sister, Dorothy Hultman of Naples, Florida; eight grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.
After a service at St. Mary of the Isle on Feb. 21, Horn was buried at The Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn, in a plot with her twin sister, Barbara Horn said.