Originally published on 7 December 2012.
Ready to meet some mermaids? After church Michael and I embarked on a wonderful undersea adventure: Weeki Wachee Springs State Park! This is something to get excited about, folks… Mermaids swim here!
Weeki Wachee Springs is a beautiful, clear, freshwater spring where wildlife such as manatees, sea turtles, otters, sea plants and more live and play. Not only that, it’s the deepest freshwater spring in North America, going far down to depths of over 400 feet!
Weeki Wachee Springs has been a roadside attraction since 1947. A man named Newton Perry, who trained Navy SEALS to swim under water in WWII, invented an underwater breathing apparatus there at Weeki Wachee after his run in the Navy. He did a lot of work with people in Hollywood—so anything you see from the 40s and for many decades after that involves water, Newton Perry had a hand in!—but he also wanted to bring people to Weekie Wachee. He began hiring girls to perform underwater shows as mermaids!
Back in the day before Facebook, Twitter and other forms of mass communication, mermaid girls did their own marketing! They would stand on the side of the road in their bathing suits and wave to people so they’d come watch the show. Even if they just had one audience member, the girls would give it their all and perform their very best show! Bear in mind that the water is 74.2 degrees year round. That sounds pretty nice, but that’s more than 20 degrees below body temperature! Too much time there in the water, and you’ll get pretty chilly. The mermaids only do shows for 30 minutes at a time. The three of us saw two shows that afternoon: one about the history of the park and showcase of what all the mermaids can do, and the other was Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid!
In the first show, we saw what the mermaids can do and how they do it. The girls have be able to swim of course, and then they have to go through a year of training and be able to hold their breath for a very long time. The breathing apparatuses are the same design that Newton Perry came up with in the 1940s. The whole show takes place under water, so of course the girls need to be able to breathe sometime within that 30 minutes. They can hold their breath for a while, but certainly not half an hour! Anyway, the things look like microphones, so it’s a pretty clever little device. They’d take a breath, but it looked more like they were singing or speaking into a microphone.
In addition to just being in the water for 30 minutes at minimum, they have to be able to swim down, down, down to at least 117 feet (12 stories) using the breathing tool, and then come up without taking in any air! The girl we saw made it up in around 2 minutes, maybe less, but then she started doing flips and swimming around until she absolutely needed air–2 minutes and 38 seconds later! It was impressive!
And that was that! Afterward, we went to a place called Neon Leon’s for supper. I got to have gator AND frog’s legs for the first time! It was all kinds of delicious.