Road trip news, rants, and ruminations by the Editors of RoadsideAmerica.com
October 17, 2008
After a quiet decade, Aquarena Springs is back in the news. Experts know it ceased being a worthy roadside attraction in 1994, when Texas State University purchased the San Marcos property and we reported its long-running mermaid and diving pig show had been shuttered. Disturbing news at the time, since Aquarena Springs was one of the original Seven Wonders of Roadside America. Several structures — concession stands, the Submarine Theater (which would submerge for each underwater performance) and the runny-looking fake volcano — remained.
Now Texas State University, in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers, plans to finally bulldoze the theater and the artificial constructions around the arena, returning the area to its “Natural State.”
The gist of the Aquarena Springs show when we saw it in the 1980s and 1990s: Ralph the Diving Pig hurled himself off a ramp on the volcano several times a day into the clear spring waters. Awestruck vacationers in the Submarine Theater watched Ralph, then submerged under the surface “to another dimension in time” to discover “the lost continent of Atlantis,” populated by mermaids and mermen and a clown named “Glurpo” performing magic tricks and glugging pop. Ralph, and the many Ralphs before him, had been “swine diving” into the spring since the 1950s.
Popular Mechanics did a cover story on the Mermaid Theater in 1952; the illustration featured a clown, though we’re not sure he was known as Glurpo then. The submarine theater was made from 50 tons of steel and 20 tons of concrete. The theater descends only 42 inches — enough to dip below the surface and achieve the complete underwater effect. The submersion took 11 minutes, and an exit to above was always accessible for claustrophobic audience members.
After the closing, there was zero chance Aquarena Springs would return to its mermaid and porcine mission. And the attraction structures have no historic or aesthetic value without the performance (the same might be said of Weeki Wachee — though Floridians regard that with more nostalgiac fondness). Aquarena Springs, you were great while you lasted, but long dead to us.
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