By Karen Rempel
Summer began with a splash on Saturday, June 22 with Coney Island’s 37th annual Mermaid Parade. Mermaids, Neptunes, merkids, and merdogs paraded in sea-deep splendor to a crowd of over 840,000 people. The parade ended with Coney Island-born King Neptune, Arlo Guthrie, and Queen Mermaid, Nora Guthrie, together with the self-designated mayor of Coney Island and parade founder, Dick Zigun, officially opening the beach for summer in front of the spectacular Parachute Jump. The Grand Marshal, Chief Justice, Bribe Solicitor General, and other announcers MC’d the event with great fun and bribes were strongly encouraged. Several hundred judges evaluated the costumes in categories for individuals and groups, including the classic push-pull floats. The parade began with classic cars cruising along Surf Avenue, some with mermaids waving to the excited throngs, tails dangling behind.
This year’s event was unique in that there were three wedding proposals and one actual wedding, officiated by Dick Zigun, with bride and groom on a parade float exchanging rings. Another parade first occurred when a tractor wheel fell off a vehicle pulling the “Tractor Pirates” float, leaking brownish bearing fluid all over Surf Avenue. It took 20 strong spectators to lift the tractor to the side of the road. Meanwhile, the parade carried on, with the remaining marchers and floats squeezing past the break-down.
“The Mermaid Parade is the nation’s largest art parade and one of New York City’s greatest summer events,” according to Coney Island USA (the not-for-profit arts organization at 1208 Surf Avenue). “A celebration of ancient mythology and honky-tonk rituals of the seaside, it showcases over 3,000 creative individuals from all over the five boroughs and beyond, opening the summer with incredible art, entrepreneurial spirit, and community pride. The parade highlights Coney Island Pageantry based on a century of many Coney parades, celebrates the artistic vision of the masses, and ensures that the summer season is a success by bringing hundreds of thousands of people to the amusement area in a single day.” This year, parade entrants came from various US locations, as well as Canada and Scotland. Baltimore’s marching band, “The Band,” was particularly spectacular, with dozens of dancers performing a seaside dance routine in front of the grandstand.
The Coney Island Brewing Company supplied the judges with Mermaid Pilsner, the “O-Fish-Al” beer of the Mermaid Parade. Many other bribes were generously offered including champagne, ouzo, chocolate, cozies, sunglasses, beads, bubble gum, and candy galore, with Swedish fish being an especially popular choice. The most creative bribes were SuzQ’s clothes-pin mermaids and NY Sea Findyhoppers’s sea-blue cups with a shark arising out of gold seafoam.
The Mermaid Parade was founded in 1983 with 3 goals: to bring mythology to life for local residents who live on the Coney Island streets named Mermaid and Neptune; to create self-esteem in a district that is often regarded as merely “entertainment”; and to let artistic New Yorkers find self-expression in public. There is no question that the parade succeeds at these goals, beyond the wildest dreams of its founder.
This year’s parade King and Queen are the first to have grown up on Mermaid Avenue. Publisher and archivist Nora Guthrie and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Arlo Guthrie (Alice’s Restaurant) are sea-spawn of Hall of Fame folkie Woody Guthrie and Martha Graham dancer Marjorie Mazia Guthrie. Woody wrote a song about Mermaid Avenue, which some of you may recall:
“Mermaid Avenue that’s the street
Where the fast and slow folks meet
Where the cold ones meet the hot ones
Just a block from Coney’s Beach…
Where all colors of goodfolks meet;
Where the smokefish meets the pretzel
Where the borscht sounds like the seas
This is where hot Mexican Chili
Meets Chop Suey…”
– Woody Guthrie
Woody Guthrie was one of the most committed civil rights activists of his generation. A participant in this year’s parade, Marni Halasa, who ran against Corey Johnson for City Council in 2017 to push the Small Business Jobs Act, said of the Mermaid Parade, “It’s a wonderful platform that gives artists and activists the opportunity to shine and to bring up important political issues.” There were numerous artist-activists in the parade this year, including the groups shown in the next two photos.
But of course, we also just love seeing the beautiful mermaids, including these two brides of the sea.
And some people who take drinking and diving quite seriously!