Mermaid park under threat
Before the appearance of Walt Disney World in 1971, live mermaids made Weeki Wachee Springs one of Florida’s top tourist attractions. Located about an hour west of Orlando in Weeki Wachee, it is now struggling for survival.
Created in 1947 by ex-Navy frogman Newton Perry, he built a theatre at the edge of a spring and recruited pretty young girls to swim under the water. He taught them to smile and breathe using a free-flowing air hose. Today the underwater performances can be viewed in an aquarium-like setting in the spring of the Weeki Wachee River. Also included in the admission are the Buccaneer Bay waterpark, animal shows and boat rides.
During the park’s heyday in the 1960s, as many as one million visitors a year watched from windows in the underwater theatre. Now, just weeks after its 60th anniversary this historic roadside attraction is in a dispute over its lease with the Southwest Florida Water Management District. If there was an endangered species list for attractions, Weeki Wachee Springs qualifies. It’s obvious that the park is struggling and trying to make the best of a bad situation.
While the Weeki Wachee Springs mermaids continue to swim today for admiring audiences, fewer tourists fill the underwater theatre, and park hours are limited. Robyn Anderson, a former Weeki Wachee mermaid who is now both mayor of Weeki Wachee and park’s general manager, believes the continuing legal challenges amount to sabotage. “It’s this big agency beating up on the little guy, and we’re not going to back down.” Mediation began last month and will hopefully lead to a resolution.