11 Jul Weeki Wachee: Where Mermaids Play
A couple months ago, we started our plan to assist the Florida tourism board by bringing you a feature on Ichetucknee Springs State Park near Ft. White, Florida. This month our tour of hidden gems continues further south to Weeki Wachee State Park in Weeki Wachee, FL.
In 1946 Newton Perry, a former sailor in the U.S. Navy who taught underwater training during World War II, decided it was the perfect place to start a new business. The town and spring sit at what is now the intersection of U.S. Highway 19 and Florida State Road 50 about an hour north of Tampa. At the time, there were no businesses and 19 was the only paved road. The spring was filled with junk of all different varieties.
After clearing out the junk, Perry started experimenting with a new form of underwater breathing that allowed the use of a compressor feeding air through a free flowing hose instead of the traditional method of strapping a bulky (and obviously noticeable) tank to the person’s back. Hiding the hoses in the spring’s natural background gave a person the appearance that they were a natural part of the spring. He built an underground theatre with a plate glass wall so his audience could view the show aquarium style. From there, he went looking for his mermaids and in 1947, the first show opened – one day before Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier.
In the early days, the mermaids would hear a car coming, run to the road in their bathing suits to lure drivers in, and then jump into the springs to perform. During the 50’s, Weeki Wachee was one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country and was used as a location for filming movies. In ’59 the park was purchased by the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) and the shows became much more elaborate using fancy props and performing shows such as The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan. During the ‘60s ladies came from as far away as Tokyo to audition for the role of mermaid, and celebrities, including names like Elvis and Don Knotts, frequented the park.
Today, the park lives on and the mermaid shows continue. In addition to the shows, you can also spend some time swimming or riding the rides at Buccaneer Bay, Florida’s only spring fed waterpark.
For more facts about this truly spectacular combination of man and nature at work you can check out their website: www.weekiwachee.com