Weeki Wachee - City of Mermaids
Weeki Wachee, Florida
"We're not like other women
We don't have to clean an oven
And we nev-er will grow olllllllllld....
We've got the world by the tail!"
-- official Weeki Wachee mermaid anthem
The name "Weeki Wachee" conjures up as powerful an image as "Big Sur" or "Harlem." Visions of lovely mermaids performing graceful underwater ballet and sucking RC Cola bottles spring to the feverish forebrain. Doomed dads have been steering their wood-paneled station wagons towards these mesmerizing maidens since 1947.
In 1946, Newton Perry, former US Navy frogman, conceived the idea of staying under water and breathing through an air hose supplied by an air compressor. During experiments at Weeki Wachee, he perfected "hose breathing." The theater was completed in 1947. Divers still have not located the bottom of the spring.
The enduring success of Weeki Wachee is built on a rigid mermaid code. "There's a lot more to being a mermaid than just knowing how to smile and wiggle your tail underwater, " says Jana, who has been a mermaid for fifteen years.
The Rites of Mermaidhood are grueling, but necessary. "Our lives depend on each other; it's not your normal job." Half the trainees who make it through the formal interview and water auditions never achieve the rank of full mermaid; the year of on-the-job training and the final exam -- holding your breath for two and a half minutes while changing out of costume in the mouth of the 72 degree spring -- finishes many mermaid wannabes.
This exclusive sorority includes nineteen active performers. Mermaids who make it through tend to stay on the job for a number of years, then often move up to management positions. "It's not the kind of job you hold for six months and then quit," notes Jana.
Hollywood recycles old TV shows into movies and Weeki Wachee recycles Disney films into its mermaid shows. "The Little Mermaid" had a successful run, and has returned. Our favorite was "Pocahontas Meets The Little Mermaid," a hybrid that ran from 1995-97 and managed to be almost politically correct while still showcasing girls in mermaid suits.
After every show, families line up to pose with a Mermaid, before heading off to Weeki Wachee's low-key Birds of Prey show, petting zoo, and jungle cruise. Our photo op mermaid waits for the crowd to move out of sight before slipping back into the
Yup, the Mermaid life ain't bad. They have only two natural enemies: thunderstorms, and the alligators that occasionally slip into the spring. Amorous dad 'n' grads are kept safely behind thick glass.
November 2008: Weeki Wachee Springs is now a Florida State Park. The state plans to preserve and continue to stage the mermaid show for the public, with a permanent staff of around 15 mermaids and five mermen.
August 2007: The theme park celebrated its 60th anniversary, with the return of many mermaid alumni. There were also rumblings of a possible plan to turn Weeki Wachee Springs into a state park.
In July, taking advantage of drought-reduced force of the spring source below the mermaid theater, cave divers explored never-before-seen passages 400 feet below the surface. The explorers marked the deepest point with a mermaid figurine! Weeki Wachee plans to show a highlights video to audiences between mermaid shows...
August 2005: British rock band Supergrass shoots a nutty music video with the mermaids for their single "Low C." Weeki Wachee has a long history of on-screen appearances, beginning with Hollywood classics such as Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948) and Neptune's Daughter (1949).
May 2005: Weeki Wachee continues to spar with Swiftmud over rent payments. WW has revived the "Save Our Tails" campaign, asking Paris Hilton to help them auction "her tail" on eBay. It's the mermaid costume she wore on an episode of The Simple Life.
March 2004: National Geographic's "On Assignment" TV show has produced "The Endangered Mermaid," an hour-long special airing this month on the Nat Geo cable channel.
October 2003: The Swiftmud governing board has voted to allow Weeki Wachee to stay open, make needed repairs, and try to turn a profit. They'll also require frequent reports on the attraction's progress ...
September 2003: Weeki Wachee is threatened with permanent closing if it can't make repairs, upgrade their facilities and return to profitability. Land owner Southwest Florida Water Management District (aka Swiftmud), may close the attraction and replace it with a state park. In August, private investors in the park donated it to the city of Weeki Wachee -- population 9 -- after failing to find interested buyers.
Weeki Wachee mayor and park manager Robyn Anderson, a 29-year old former mermaid, is leading an effort to raise funds. The "Save Our Tails " campaign solicits donations from the public for improvements and encourages vigorous letter writing to Florida authorities and politicians to preserve America's Last Live Mermaid Attraction.