By Barbara Goldberg
NEW YORK (Reuters) - What happened in Atlantic City's past should stay in Atlantic City's past-- especially if it involves high-diving horses.
That was the decision made by Anthony Catanoso, owner of the Steel Pier amusement park, who scrapped plans for a comeback of the legendary Jersey Shore high-diving horses attraction in response to the cries of outraged animal rights advocates.
Catanoso said he was reacting to mounting protests over the stunt in which a horse climbs to the top of a 40-foot tall platform which tips, plunging the animal and its rider into a 12-foot deep water tank.
"We'll honor the memories of the past in another way," Catanoso told Reuters.
The act opened at New Jersey's Steel Pier in the 1920s and was shut down five decades later. A brief reincarnation in 1993 with mules, and no humans, quickly ended after loud protests.
Atlantic City has fallen on hard times as its legendary casinos face growing competition from others on the east coast and the city battles a high crime rate. Nostalgia for Atlantic City's edgy past has led to such hits as HBO's Prohibition era "Boardwalk Empire," but Catanoso got a far different reaction to his plan to revive horse diving.
More than 55,000 people signed online petitions on change.org denouncing his vision. Catanoso received insults and threats, including one vow to march him up the platform steps and cattle-prod him off, he said.
His decision to abandon the plan was welcomed by animal rights advocates.
"This is a merciful end to a colossally stupid idea," said Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of The Humane Society of the United States, in a statement emailed to Reuters.
"We are pleased so many citizens spoke up and urged that this spectacle never get off the ground. Horse diving has the potential to frighten and injure and kill horses, and it rightly belongs in Atlantic City's history books," Pacelle said in the statement.
Catanoso said his now-dashed dream was based on thorough research that convinced him that the stunt would in no way negatively impact the horses.
(Editing by Greg McCune)