Florida’s Strange and Beautiful Mermaid Theme Park

The Photo Blog
Nov. 22 2013 11:02 AM

Florida’s Strange and Beautiful Mermaid Theme Park

MERMAID6-
The Theater

Annie Collinge

At the intersection of U.S. 19 and State Road 50 lies Weeki Wachee Springs, one of the oldest roadside attractions in Florida, where the Mermaid Theater has drawn visitors for decades. Photographer Annie Collinge spent three days at the springs last year after reading about it online. “I'm always interested in things that are fake but kind of a bit real. It fit in perfectly because they are professional mermaids but obviously they're fake,” she said.

An underwater theater first opened at the springs in 1947, the brainchild of Navy veteran Newton Perry. It had its heyday in 1959, when ABC purchased it and built a new theater 16 feet below the surface. Thirty-five mermaids were employed then, and they performed eight shows a day. Today, the springs are now designated part of a state park. “Instantly, I knew it was going to be a good project because the mermaids were very open. It helped that I was a woman. I was in the changing room and they didn't care,” she said.

The mermaids perform two shows—“The Little Mermaid” and “Fish Tails”—a few times a day, using hidden underwater breathing hoses to maintain the fantastical illusion. The park is open all year long to visitors. “It's quite a strange mix of people because it's not like your average Disney attraction. It has a vintage feel. There were people with their children and lots of slightly weird men who quite fancied mermaids,” Collinge said.

MERMAID5
Mermaid Karri

Annie Collinge

MERMAID8
Bubble

Annie Collinge

MERMAID1

Annie Collinge

MERMAID17-
Plunge

Annie Collinge

MERMAID12
Valentine's Day Barber Shop Choir

Annie Collinge

Advertisement

During the warmer months seats are often filled, but in February, Collinge said, only a few people were in the audience. This gave her more of an opportunity to photograph the mermaids, but it also meant the park looked pretty deserted. “Generally my work is sort of a contrast between something that's something slightly humorous and something that's slightly bleak. Unintentionally, that's how I see things,” Collinge said.

Collinge was surprised to discover how much the mermaids love their jobs. She said many of them grew up in the area and worked in the park for years in various capacities.  A few years ago, when the park was threatened with closure, the mermaids started a campaign called “Save Our Tails” to keep it open.

Collinge’s exhibition, “Annie Collinge: The Underwater Mermaid Theater,” is on view alongside another exhibition, “The Mythology of Florida,” through Jan. 5 at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. You can follow Collinge on Facebook and Instagram.

MERMAID11-
Kylee and the Turtle

Annie Collinge

MERMAID4-
Mermaid Maggie Before the Show

Annie Collinge

MERMAID16-

Annie Collinge

MERMAID2
Dusk, Highway 19

Annie Collinge

MERMAID13
Mermaid Maggie

Annie Collinge

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy

Even if You Don’t Like Batman, You Might Like Gotham

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

So, Apple Is Not Shuttering Beats, but the Streaming Service Will Probably Be Folded Into iTunes

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 22 2014 4:06 PM No, Women’s Soccer Does Not Have a Domestic Violence Problem Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 5:45 PM The University of California Corrects “Injustice” by Making Its Rich Chancellors Even Richer
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.