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Weeki Wachee Springs and the Mermaids
Vintage Weeki Wachee Postcards & The Mermaid Wall of FameClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Laws Of Roadside Attraction
Weeki Wachee Springs, is an important piece of Florida's unusual, rich heritage. It is a city of live Mermaids. Still much more than that, the Mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs are apart of a dying legacy that is Americana. The roadside attraction.
In the glory days, before eight lane super highways, and thill ride stuffed, stand in line for hours, over priced amusement parks. There was the roadside attraction. Unique, wild, and strange entertainment that kept the kids in the back seat of the family Nash-Rambler from getting squirrelly during one of those famous Mom and Dad driving 3000 miles to see America summer vacations. Where else but on the state routes of America,with famous numbers such as Route 66, or State Route 40, could a family see, with a sense of amusement, and wonder a 200-feet tall Paul Bunyon, the worlds tallest thermometer, a giant pink dinosaur cottage, or mermaids... real (or so it would seem) live, dancing, singing, smiling....mermaids?
Weeki Wachee is an enchanted spring. Its truly the only one of its kind in the world, as a matter of fact. For roughly 60 years, Weeki Wachee Springs has been one of Florida’s oldest and most unique roadside attractions. A fun, family oriented park that has lured in visitors with the siren song of beautiful mermaids, who swim in the 72°F, crystal clear spring waters. The true magic of Weeki Wachee Springs is sitting in the Mermaid Theater. Giant aquarium-like windows embedded in the limestone that makes the visitors feel like they are inside the flowing spring, swimming in a mysterious blue underwater world of mermaids, manatees, turtles and bubbles.
Weeki Wachee Springs is a splendid throwback to a Florida that is rarely seen today. A bit of folklore and a touch of dreams manifested, to take you back to a simpler time. This bit of roadside Americana is magical entrance into days long gone by...the early days of Weeki Wachee Springs. In those days, cars passing by were a bit sparse, so when the girls would hear a car coming, they would run out, to the road in their bathing suits. They would smile, wave and try to coax drivers into pulling on in to see the show. Once the car made it to the parking lot, then the girls would hurry into the spring to perform as the mermaids.
By the 1950s, Weeki Wachee was one of the nation’s most popular tourist stops. The ladies received worldwide acclaim and attention. Movies like "Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid" were filmed at the spring. Park attractions included the mermaid shows, orchid gardens, jungle cruises, a Native American encampment and a beach.
In 1959, the American Broadcast Company (ABC) bought Weeki Wachee Springs, and the attraction was heavily promoted. Ushering in the heyday of the Mermaid. To be a Weeki Wachee Marmaid, at this time, held the prestige of a celebrity, but with all the glitz came hard work. All mermaids had to take etiquette and ballet lessons. ABC built the Mermaid theater, which seats 500 and is embedded in the side of the spring, at an astounding 16 feet below the surface. ABC also developed theme shows, with elaborate props, music, and story lines. Production performances like an "Underwater Circus", the "Mermaids and the Pirates", and "Underwater Follies." The mermaids have even performed "Alice in Wonderland," "The Wizard of Oz," "Snow White," and "Peter Pan" all under water.
Legend has it, by the 1960s, girls came from as far away as Tokyo to audition for the coveted privilege of becoming a Weeki Wachee Mermaid. The glamorous mermaids performed eight shows a day to sold out crowds. Reportedly as many as half a million visitors a year came to see the famous Weeki Wachee mermaids including stars in their own rights Elvis Presley. Don Knotts, Esther Williams, and Arthur Godfry. Weeki Wachee Springs employed 35 mermaids, who took turns swimming in the shows and mesmerizing the crowds by playing football and having picnics underwater. Some of the mermaids chose to take up lodging in the mermaid cottages behind the attraction.
16MM Home Movie Of The Mermaids Filmed In 1952
The History of Weeki Wachee Springs
The native Seminole tribe named the spring “Weeki Wachee,” which means “little spring” or “winding river.” The Weeki Wachee River twists and bends its way 12 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. The spring is so deep that the bottom has never been found. More than 117 million gallons of clear, fresh water bubbles up from the subterranean caverns every day. Deep in the spring, the current surge is so strong that it can knock a scuba diver’s mask off. The spring basin is a 100 feet wide with limestone sides. At 16 to 20 feet below the surface, where the mermaids swim, the current is five miles an hour. That's makes it quite a feat for a mermaid to stay in one place, with such a strong current.
In 1946, Newton Perry, a former U.S. Navy man... who trained SEALS to swim underwater during World War II, traveled to Weeki Wachee to see if it would be a good site for a new business idea he had. State Route 19 was a small two-lane road at the time. All the other roads in the area were dirt there were no gas stations, no groceries, and no movie theaters. Newton claimed that there was more alligators and black bears lived in the area than humans.
The spring was, pretty much a local's dump site, full of old rusted refrigerators, abandoned cars and other junk. Newt, himself, pretty much cleared out the junk with some help, of course. Newt then started to experiment with underwater breathing hoses. He had developed a method of breathing underwater from a free-flowing air hose that supplied oxygen from an air compressor, instead of having a tank strapped onto the back of the submerge person. By using an air hose, a human could give the appearance of living underwater with no breathing apparatus.
MermaidsClick thumbnail to view full-size
"We're So Glad You Came to Weeki Wachee"
Wanna Be A Mermaid?
"We're not like other women,
We don't have to clean an oven
And we nev-er will grow old....
We've got the world by the tail!" -- the official Weeki Wachee mermaid creed
The success of Weeki Wachee is built on a very rigid code for the mermaids. Obviously, working 16 to 20 feet underwater, there is a lot more to being a mermaid than just waving, smiling and wiggling a tailfin. The Rites of Mermaidhood are grueling, but necessary. The mermaid's lives depend on each other. It's not an easy, or a normal job. On average half the trainees who make it through the formal interview and water auditions will never achieve the rank of full mermaid. Then there is the required one year of on-the-job training and the final exam...Which is holding your breath fora full two and a half minutes, while changing out of costume, in the mouth of the 72 degree water of the spring. That would pretty much flush out the mermaid wannabes, wearing the iridescent Lycra tail is a hard earned honor.
The mermaids perform choreographed routines and stories. Sometimes the performers are joined by unexpected guest-stars; fish, turtles, and manatees (the very creatures that some say inspired the original mermaid legends.) Being a Weeki Wachee Mermaid is an exclusive sorority, that includes nineteen active performers. It's not the kind of job that on average is held for six months and then a girl quits. Mermaids who make it through the grueling audition process tend to stay on the job for a number of years and then often move up to management positions.
Really a Mermaid's life isn't too bad. They have only two natural enemies: thunderstorms, and the alligators. The 'gators do occasionally slip into the spring.
Weeki Wachee Mermaid Video
The Enigma Of The Mermaid's Lives On Land And In The Water
The mermaids performance days are intense. They do spend much of their day in the water. Out of the water, they are expected to maintain their "mermaid manners." The park attempts to cultivate the fantasy, by keeping the mermaids in character. They are forbidden from unzipping their tails in public view, and they have to wear full makeup; eye shadow and red lipstick, at all times. Some of the mermaids are so used to wearing their makeup and playing up their personas, that they admit to feeling a bit exposed when someone recognizes them as a mermaid in their off-time.
The fantasy part of the mermaid's job is very intense, but to some of the girls that's it's the part that seems most real.The job is demanding on a level that requires ultimate devotion from the performers. In many ways, the work they do is even more strenuous than performing on a stage inLas Vegas or at Disney World. The mermaids are performers to an infinite degree because they do all their shows, and endlessly practice... completely underwater.
The world of the Weeki Wachee spring, that the mermaid's spend much of their day in, is a world of silence. Their only link, for much of the day, to the outside world is the air hoses that give them oxygen, one breath at a time. It does take concentration; it's not just holding in a big gulp of air. They must train themselves to only take just enough oxygen to weigh their bodies and stay in position. The mermaids keep careful count between breaths, to control their movement. Much of the time the performers are blind to the audience looking at them through the glass. The performers only interact with each other and with the occasional co-stars, the turtles that weave in and out of their choreography. The ladies describe the seclusion as relaxing, for the most part. They are in many ways, almost mermaids.
Many of the women work six days a week, starting out at minimum wage, and working second jobs at night. But outside of the glamour of the locker room, the endless shimmer of shiny tails and the glittery eye shadow, there are chores to do.
It is this troupe of mermaids who wash the theater windows, scrub with a toothbrush the algae from the underwater castle and statues. They take out the trash, pizza boxes and empty bags of goldfish crackers that pile up from their hurried lunches. There are the three "princes," male performers on staff who help out with the daily duties, even though they get less glory.
Today's mermaids love that they can maintain the fairy tale for others. From the outside, it still seems mythical.
Underwater AngelsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Weeki Wachee Mermaid Up Close
The City of Weeki Wachee
The tiny city of Weeki Wachee, all 1.01 miles of it, was incorporated in 1966, the reason behind it was so that Weeki Wachee could be placed on maps and road signs. With a population of about nine, including the mayor (who believe it or not, is a former mermaid) Weeki Wachee is one of the nation’s smallest cities.
Visitors can swim at the water park, Buccaneer Bay, see the Misunderstood Creatures animal show, or take a riverboat ride down the Weeki Wachee River and into Old Florida. A family of peacocks roams the grounds. Turtles, fish, manatees, otters and even an occasional alligator swim in the spring with the mermaids, amusing both children and adults. Visitors can pose with mermaids, and even swim in the spring with the new Sea Diver program. Children can attend the summer Mermaid Camp and fulfill their dreams of becoming a little mermaid or a merman.
It was reported on, February 2009, that the transition of Weeki Wachee Springs to become a state park had been very smooth and successful.