Legendary and Mystical
Mermaids are ethereal. Like sparkling apparitions, they shimmer through the mists of time. The subject of folklore, fairytale and mystery, early mermaid visions surfaced around 1000 B.C. Sweeping back history’s veils reveals possible origins in Greek mythology. Portrayed in ancient artwork, they were legendary creatures with the tails of fish and upper bodies of humans. Usually mermen, imagery of mermaids was also evident. Even Christopher Columbus claimed to have spotted the lovely and treacherous creatures on his voyages. Through the ages, tantalizing mermaid glimpses and encounters were reported, filling ancient archives.
Photo of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park sculpture by Florida's Adventure Coast Visitors Bureau
Fast forward to 1946 to meet Newton Perry, a man known as the “fish man.”
Could he have been a modern day “merman?” Could this fish man personify the timeless spirit and soul of the part-fish, part-human creatures of myth? Undoubtedly, as Newton Perry could stay underwater for over three minutes.
Photo of Newton Perry: Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Newton Perry, this “fish man,” led a colorful life that revolved around water, from college swimming and diving to appearing in a Red Cross water safety manual.
Like a modern-day Neptune, he spearheaded many underwater projects, like roles in MGM’s Tarzan Finds a Son (1939) and Tarzan's Secret Treasure (1941).
Newton’s Special Dream
Long inspired by a haunting dream, one spring Newton Perry devoted himself to making his dream come true.
A former U.S. Navy SEAL instructor, Newton Perry heard about a spring so deep that no one had ever reached the bottom.
Photo of spring head: Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
He found this fact intriguing and set out to discover the wonders of this deep, unexplored water-filled cavern.
Upon investigation, he soon learned that this magnificent spring bore the name Weekiwachee (winding river) bestowed by Native Americans.
Stirred by its beauty and promise, Perry dove in to a new business venture.
When Perry scouted Weeki Wachee for the site of a new business in 1946, US-19 was only a small two-lane road.
Photo: Florida History on Pinterest
Alligators and black bears outnumbered humans and what he found was a mess. Filled with junk, the spring held old refrigerators and abandoned cars.
Through the debris, he could see that the water was crystal clear. Perry had a vision: pretty girls swimming in the clear springs with people watching.
Photo: Vintage Mermaid Poster on Pinterest by Amy Gorman
He quickly cleared the junk from the waters and experimented with underwater breathing systems. He invented a novel breathing system using long, free-flowing air hoses. By supplying oxygen through a hose from a compressor, the need for a tank strapped to the swimmer’s back was eliminated. With the hoses, humans appeared to thrive independently twenty feet underwater.
Equipped with these ingenious devices, he scouted out those pretty girls and taught them the required underwater swimming and breathing techniques.
Photo of filming of Mr. Peabody and the Mermaids (1948), Weeki Wachee Springs State Park files
They learned special tricks, water ballet and how to synchronize their moves to access the air hoses hidden in the scenery. A small theater was built and submerged onto a limerock shelf.
Photo: vintage mermaid history on Pinterest
Magical, then and now
A sign was placed out on the roadside of US-19. When enough people had stopped, the first show was performed on October 13, 1947. The Weeki Wachee Mermaids were born!
Photo: Weeki Wachee Springs State Park on Pinterest
With pride and a historical legacy, the Weeki Wachee Mermaids perform daily at the same site, now a Florida State Park.
Photo: Weeki Wachee Springs State Park Facebook
They perform at other venues around the world and thrill audiences with their underwater grace.
Photo: South Carolina Aquarium
Mr. Perry passed away in 1987 at age 79 but the dream of this fish man lives on through his one-of-a-kind underwater theater and the Weeki Wachee Springs timeless treasure: Mermaids. On October 13, 2017, the attraction's 70th anniversary, many share mermaid memories and thank Newton Perry for his vision.
Photo: Florida's Adventure Coast Visitors Bureau file
Happy 70th Anniversary to all Mermaids, past, present and future.