Jane Umbarger of McHenry had a knack for making big news, even if she wasn’t aware of the significance at the time.
The first time she made headlines was when she and her twin sister, Jean Harrison of Algonquin, were born on Aug. 17, 1934. They were born prematurely and lived for their first two months in an incubator that was on public display at the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair. Thousands of people saw them each day. They were known as the “Incubator Twins.”
Lindsay Weber of the Northwest Herald interviewed the twins in 2018:
“The Chicago World’s Fair planted a city of possibility on 424 acres of Chicago’s shoreline. As they strolled through the fair, dubbed ‘A Century of Progress,’ attendees could marvel at modern architecture, dream cars and homes of tomorrow.
“Amidst the nightlife scene was famed burlesque dancer Sally Rand. Right next door, whilst Rand performed her famous fan dance, behind a pane of glass onlookers could pay 25 cents to view premature babies resting in a new contraption, the incubator.
“The brainchild of Martin A. Couney, a pioneer in the field of neonatology, the incubator was meant to provide a controlled environment for the care and protection of fledgling babies. While skepticism remains in regard to his credentials as a trained medical professional, Couney’s incubators offered a life-saving option for premature babies, who at the time, were not seen as medical priorities.
“Fraternal premature twins Jean and Jane Harbaugh were lucky enough to be given the necessary attention by Couney as two of his ‘incubator babies,’ giving both girls originally weighing less than 4 pounds a fighting chance.”
The women did not know about their involvement in the World’s Fair until they were 12 years old, as the subject was not spoken about often in the home.
“We were really surprised,” Jane Umbarger said in 2018. “Our announcement ended up in papers across the country and some people just showed up.”
Jane and Jean made national news again in June 1953 when they each got married in a double ceremony. It was Jane’s first marriage and at the time she didn’t know what all the fuss was about, said Jim Umbarger, Jane’s second husband of 60 years.
Jane died last year at age 88. Jean died in 2019.
“The first time Jane Umbarger made headlines was when she and her twin sister, Jean Harrison of Algonquin, were born on Aug. 17, 1934. They were born prematurely and lived for their first two months in an incubator that was on public display at the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair. Thousands of people saw them each day. They were known as the ‘Incubator Twins.’”
— Community Exchange
Jane and Jim Umbarger lived in the same McHenry home along the Fox River that Jim bought in 1959. When they married, Jane had two children and Jim had two of his own. Together, they had two more children, for a total of six. Their family grew to 15 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
Until the day she died on April 23, 2022, Jane Umbarger was known as an “Incubator Twin.”
“I heard that a lot,” Jim told me recently.
“I visited a friend at a nursing home and someone was talking about the ‘Incubator Twins’ and everyone there knew about them,” Jim said. “Then, I walked into the Jewel not too long ago and people were talking about the ‘Incubator Twins’ before I even walked in. People who knew me were asking me about it, trying to remember their names. They wanted details about the ‘Incubator Twins.’ ”
Jim said Jane worked in a hospital in Elgin as an aide in the natal unit taking care of babies, naturally. After the couple raised their children, Jane worked with Jim at Hustler Sport Center.
He said a highlight for the couple was in 1968 when he was inducted in the Marine Racing Hall of Fame by Gulf Oil. There was a celebration at Essex House in New York City. The year before, Jim was the National Champion in the duo engine unlimited boating class.
Jim doesn’t like to talk about his sporting career. But he’ll talk about his beloved “Incubator Twin” anytime.
• Dennis Anderson, vice president of news & content development for Shaw Media, lives in Crystal Lake. He’s looking to share news about you and your neighbors and special events and happenings. Share your Community Exchange news with him at email@example.com.