CONEY ISLAND – Thousands of office workers and construction workers were just some of the many people stepping out of their ordinary routines on Saturday to transform into someone they usually hide within themselves—rainbow mermaids and pirate scallywags. The Mermaid Parade in Coney Island—a theater of the absurd in New York’s play land—allows one’s inner self to come to the surface in performance art.
Nearly a million people flocked to Coney Island for the 37th annual Mermaid Parade where more than 3,000 creative individuals from the five boroughs and beyond marched to open the summer with incredible art, entrepreneurial spirit, and community pride. The parade highlights Coney Island pageantry and celebrates the artistic visions of the masses. The event welcomes the summer season, bringing hundreds of thousands of people to the amusement area in a single day.
This year, the parade honored Woody Guthrie’s children, Arlo and Nora Guthrie, who were named “King Neptune” and “Queen Mermaid,” respectively. They led the procession down Surf Avenue and down the boardwalk. Only hours before, the corner of Mermaid Avenue and West 35th Street in Brooklyn was named “Woody Guthrie Way” in honor of their iconic musician father.
Arlo is famous singer-songwriter in his own right, most famous for “Alice’s Restaurant.”
Parade founder Dick D. Zigun led the King and Queen procession from the review stand at 19th and Surf Avenue, through the MCU Parking lot, to the beach for the official beach ceremony and opening of the ocean for the summer swimming season.
“I think we are going to beat last year’s record attendance, predicting 850,000 people, and the largest mermaid parade ever,” Zigun said.
But what attracts them to the event?
“I have no good reason why I haven’t attended this parade before—shame on me,” said Melinda McKenzie of Park Slope. “This parade is something that everybody talks about. It’s a time to be free. I’m going to walk around and talk to people. I’ll be here from now on.”
“I love the Mermaid parade, I get to see every other mermaid who dresses up, and sometimes I get to dress up and be part of it,” said ‘underwater unicorn’ Alaysia Rodriguez, 6, of Glendale with grandmother Sylvia Almatovar.
“I’m being a mermaid—it’s fun, and it’s a celebration of summer,” said Melissa Kane of Bensonhurst who was joined by Barry Stabile of Bay Ridge, dressed as Gilligan’s Island millionaire Thurston Howell the III. “Nobody does Thurston Howell but me,” Stabile said. “It’s the first day of summer and what better place to celebrate but in Coney island?”
Rachel Evans of Brooklyn Heights, originally from Brazil, was dressed in a skimpy gold mermaid dress.
“I heard about the parade and I love dressing up so this is the perfect occasion,” she said. “This has a lot to do with my culture in in Brazil where we have Carnival. I could not be there this year, but this reminds me of the Carnival.”
The parade is an original creation of Coney Island USA (the not-for-profit arts organization at 1208 Surf Avenue). The Mermaid Parade is the nation’s largest art parade and one of New York City’s greatest summer events.
The Mermaid Parade was founded in 1983 with three goals: bring mythology to life for local residents who live on streets named Mermaid and Neptune; create self-esteem in a district that is often disregarded as “entertainment”; and let artistic New Yorkers find self-expression in public.
Unlike most parades, this one has no ethnic, religious, or commercial aims. It’s a major New York event invented by artists! This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and many corporate sponsors.