Recently I was watching Penn and Teller do an underwater magic show that was part filmed at Atlantis here on New Providence Island in the Bahamas. You can see it in the video link.
The mentioned Hartley’s Undersea Walk supplied the diving helmets. Now I had never heard of this company before so I decided to do a quick search for them. It transpires that they operated first from Bermuda in 1948 and then started an operation in Nassau in 1958. Unfortunately it closed its operations in the Bahamas in 2008.
Here is a brief history as taken from their now defunct website:
Bronson Hartley is the founding father of Hartley’s Undersea Walk, which in the early years was called Hartley’s Helmet Diving Cruises. Bronson was born in N.Y. City in 1920, son of a surgeon who served in world war one as a field doctor (Frank McBeth Ende), who upon returning from the war did not wish to keep up with his socialite wife Gladys. Soon after, Frank took off with just the shirt on his back, as a ship’s doctor. Bitter that she being so beautiful and of such good character should be abandoned, Gladys moved to Bermuda and soon after changed the family name of both her boys to her maiden name, which was Gladys Burbank Hartley.
On arriving in Bermuda in 1930, Bronson expected to find a tropical island full of exotic animals. Bermuda is an isolated island between the United States and Europe which has no native people or animals, except for birds. Bronson, in search for exotic animals to interact with, went undersea. One of his favorite undersea pets was the extremely intelligent octopus. In fact, Bronson was the first person successfully to transport a live specimen of the Bermuda octopus to the New York aquarium. The amusing part is, on returning home from boarding school in Toronto, Canada, he informed the aquarium in New York that he wished to take his pet octopus back home to Bermuda. Bronson discovered that the vibrations from the ship’s engines were the cause of death of previous octopuses. The secret to the successful transportation of the octopus was by hanging the octopus in a tank suspended by a steel spring and bicycle inner tube.
Scuba was not invented at this time and I believe the mask was either not invented or had not been popularized at the time, but helmets were available. Bronson’s boyhood friend had acquired such a helmet, but was from a strictly religious family who believed that Sundays should be dedicated to religion. The helmet was kept at Bronson’s house and his friend would cover himself in zinc cream to block the sun from giving away the fact that he was out diving, and they would take turns pumping air down to each other with a hand pump. Soon after Bronson set about building his own helmet.
Here is a recent video of a diver using one of the helmets to explore the aquatic realm.
As far as I am aware they are still operating in Bermuda. You can find more information about them on their website http://www.hartleybermuda.com/ you can also find them on TripAdvisor
It’s a pity that they ceased operating in the Bahamas. Anything that allows us surface dwellers to experience the beauty and wonder of the aquatic realm without damaging it is definitely a plus. I think that it could be a nice introduction to scuba.