If you’ve ever wondered about the origins of the porthole lounge, or where you can still find one inhabited by live mermaids, then “Cocktails & Fishtails” was a must-see among The Hukilau’s 2014 symposiums.
The audience was treated to an entertaining event, as might be expected anytime the effervescent Marina is part of the act. Underlying the fun of this presentation, however, was the serious work of Vintage Roadside’s Jeff Kunkle. He spent nearly a decade sifting through the flotsam and jetsam of history to make the connections with people, places and events that enlivened the story.
Jeff kicked things off by tracing the inspiration for the porthole lounge back to Billy Rose’s Aquacade, a music, dance and swimming show in the late 1930s. Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller, who also played Tarzan in the movies, was a star in the version of the show that played at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. [See video] The success of Aquacade at the World’s Fair spawned similar shows across the country over the next decade.
Despite a recent report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that “no evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found,” fans of Florida kitsch and retro culture know better. In fact, perhaps the world’s most famous coterie of real-life mermaids has performed in the waters of Weeki Wachee Springs for 65 years.
The legendary tourist attraction will be holding its 65th Anniversary Mermaid Reunion on Friday through Sunday, July 13-15, including shows featuring both current and retired mermaids. Weeki Wachee proudly embraces its history and holds regular events for its alumnae. But the anniversary weekend is the biggest, serving as a class reunion for the many women who have performed in the crystal clear waters.
There will be special shows all weekend, plus the alumnae will enjoy special swims in the spring, plus a dinner (presumably on dry land), and other reunion activities. For Weeki Wachee visitors, it will be a unique opportunity to see multi generations of performers who brought style and grace to one of the world’s most unusual attractions.