Coney Island Mermaid Parade

One of New York City’s quirkiest spectacles makes its 30th annual trek.

0

Comments

Add +
  • Photograph: Courtesy Coney Island Museum

    Coney Island Mermaid Parade

  • Photograph: Courtesy Coney Island Museum

    Coney Island Mermaid Parade

  • Photograph: Courtesy Coney Island Museum

    Coney Island Mermaid Parade

  • Photograph: Courtesy Coney Island Museum

    Coney Island Mermaid Parade

  • Photograph: Courtesy Coney Island Museum

    Coney Island Mermaid Parade

  • Photograph: Courtesy Coney Island Museum

    Coney Island Mermaid Parade

  • Photograph: Courtesy Coney Island Museum

    Coney Island Mermaid Parade

  • Photograph: Courtesy Coney Island Museum

    Coney Island Mermaid Parade

  • Photograph: Roxana Marroquin

  • Photograph: Carl Saytor

  • Photograph: Carl Saytor

  • Photograph: Carl Saytor

  • Photograph: Carl Saytor

Photograph: Courtesy Coney Island Museum

Coney Island Mermaid Parade


Even for Coney Island—a place that embraced vaudeville, circus acts and freak shows—the concept of the Mermaid Parade initially seemed odd. At the time of the event’s inception three decades ago, the once-lively resort spot was more notorious for crime than for its kitschy, carnivalesque spirit. Wanting to transform the neighborhood back into a citywide attraction, Coney Island USA founder and neighborhood champion Dick Zigun led the first sea-inspired promenade in 1983. Since then, the parade, which will cruise down Surf Avenue Saturday 23, has endured threats from fast-food chains, developers and a lightning storm, but has accomplished what Zigun intended: It attracts more than half a million spectators to Coney Island annually. On the eve of its 30th anniversary, we traced the rite back to its origins.

1983
Yale School of Drama graduate Dick Zigun leads the first parade, dressed in a vintage bathing costume and top hat and carrying a large bass drum. The spectacle draws fewer onlookers than participants, which include the Coney Island Polar Bears and a float from Deno’s Wonder Wheel.

1985
Zigun’s efforts seem to be paying off as The Washington Post and Newsday proclaim the beachfront neighborhood to be on the rebound, citing the event as one example of the area’s resurgence.

1995
With rumors swirling that Sideshows by the Seashore will be kicked out of its original building to make way for a McDonald’s (the space eventually becomes Nathan’s Famous), parade marchers drag an effigy of the severed head of Ronald McDonald through the streets.

1999
Queen Latifah, “the coolest queen” in parade history, according to Zigun, presides over the event.

2003
A lightning storm strikes during festivities, canceling the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Since ABC weatherman Bill Evans is the reigning king, Coney Island organizers ban meteorologists from becoming future royalty. However, scaly revelers find solace later that evening at the first Mermaid Parade Ball at Peggy O’Neill’s (1904 Surf Ave at W 19th St).

2005
The year’s male ruler, New York Doll David Johansen, refuses to sit in his royal chariot and instead walks the route, issuing proclamations to spectators along the way. Zigun calls him the “coolest King Neptune” in parade history.

2008
A city proposal to convert part of the shorefront into hotels and high-end shops turns the march into a protest against development. The Mermaid Queen, Savitri D, announces that she will go on a hunger strike to oppose the building plans.

2009
The same year that Harvey Keitel wears Neptune’s crown, the Mermaid Parade Ball moves to the New York Aquarium, turning the once modest after-party into an event attracting thousands.

2011
Whether it was due to hallucinogenic drugs or a voodoo spell (or, more likely, heatstroke), Zigun has an out-of-body experience during the parade. The trip inspires Coney Island employees to make buttons for the following year that read DON’T FEED DICK.

2012
To celebrate the promenade’s 30th birthday, Coney Island USA sends out a call for past floats and previous nobility. Zigun readies a restored version of the bathing suit he wore in the 1983 parade. Comedian Jackie Martling and Brooklyn-born actor Annabella Sciorra (The Sopranos) will reign as king and queen.

UNDER THE SEA! Coney Island Mermaid Parade, from Surf Ave and W 21st St to the Boardwalk and W 15th St, Coney Island, Brooklyn (coneyisland.com). Sat 23 at 2pm; free • Mermaid Parade Ball, New York Aquarium, 602 Surf Ave at W 5th St. 7pm; $30, VIP $75. Required advance tickets available at coneyisland.com.

Users say

0 comments