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 a powerful image: visions of lovely mermaids performing graceful underwater ballet and sucking RC Cola bottles spring to the feverish forebrain. Mermaid fans have been steering toward 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 club 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 water moccasins that occasionally slip into the spring (Alligators, they say, are not very dangerous).
Weeki Wachee Springs was threatened with closure in the early 2000s, but in November 2008 it became an official Florida State Park. The state, to its credit, has preserved and continued to stage the mermaid show for the public, with a permanent staff of around 15 mermaids and five mermen, who wiggle to tunes such as, "God Bless the USA."