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The history of the Coney Island Mermaid Parade

Scenes from The Mermaid Parade
Scenes from The Mermaid Parade
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Coney Island is a neighborhood in Brooklyn that has long been connected with the seaside, the boardwalk, the New York Aquarium, and amusement parks. Coney Island is a place of fun and many attention-getting gimmicks and, true to the neighborhood’s nature, every year an outlandish event called “The Mermaid Parade” takes place.

The Mermaid Parade occurs every June on Coney Island.
Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images

“The Mermaid Parade” occurs annually in mid-to-late June. The parade consists of many people dressed up as mermaids, King Neptune, and assorted sea creatures either marching or riding on floats down Surf Avenue. Although the parade only runs for 11 blocks—from 21st street to 10th street—it filters out onto the Coney Island boardwalk where the elaborately-dressed participants can exit the actual parade route and pose for photos with the crowd. Perhaps one of the reasons that The Mermaid Parade is so popular is because anyone can join in—as long as you are in costume (the brighter and more elaborate the better) you are welcome to be a part of the experience.

The Mermaid Parade was started in 1983 by Dick Zigun who is sometimes called the unofficial “Mayor of Coney Island.” Dick Zigun is the founder of a non-profit arts group called “Coney Island USA” which is dedicated to the revitalization of Coney Island. When Coney Island fell on hard times throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Dick wanted to start a tradition that would bring the community together and attract outsiders back to Coney Island. Since Coney Island contains many buildings depicting images of mermaids and King Neptune that have been standing since the 1800s, a mermaid parade seemed like the perfect event. Dick wanted the Mermaid Parade to contain elements of Mardi-Gras and he also took heed from the wildly popular “Village Halloween Parade” that is held in Manhattan every October 31st.

The first few Mermaid Parades were very adult-oriented affairs since many women chose to walk down the street dressed exactly like the depictions of mermaids in many classic paintings—without tops. Through a strange loop-hole law in New York state, it was not illegal for women to walk bare-chested at a public parade but such actions did keep family crowds at bay. Luckily, the Mermaid Parade rapidly cleaned up and became increasingly family oriented. Today it is an event that is so family friendly that it actually includes many young children marching along in full mermaid attire!

The Mermaid Parade has become a staple of New York City culture and tradition and it is widely reported about on the news, the Internet and the radio. In fact, the 2014 parade hosted on June 21st included Mayor Bill de Blasio, his wife and his two children—who were dubbed “King and Queen” of the parade—marching along in full costume! The parade is known for the colorful and creative costumes (many of them home-made) on view and some people have even come to view the event as “summer’s Halloween.”

If you like costumes, parades, and mermaids then The Mermaid Parade is certainly a sight to see! If you are interested in attending next summer’s event check out the official website for more details:
http://www.coneyisland.com/programs/mermaid-parade