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Weeki Wachee, City of Mermaids: A History of One of Florida's Oldest Roadside Attractions

Overview

In the postwar explosion of domestic tourism, Weeki Wachee  spring offered the quintessential vacation fantasy, a city of colorful mermaids in a natural crystal spring right off the West Coast highway in a sparsely inhabited Florida. In those early days, the mermaids had to stand alongside the highway to flag travelers down, but once word of their charms got out, travelers headed south to playgrounds in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Tampa found Weeki Wachee a tantalizing detour from the grueling two-lane road ...

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Overview

In the postwar explosion of domestic tourism, Weeki Wachee  spring offered the quintessential vacation fantasy, a city of colorful mermaids in a natural crystal spring right off the West Coast highway in a sparsely inhabited Florida. In those early days, the mermaids had to stand alongside the highway to flag travelers down, but once word of their charms got out, travelers headed south to playgrounds in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Tampa found Weeki Wachee a tantalizing detour from the grueling two-lane road connecting vacationland with the work-a-day world to the north. Vickers shows how that local novelty became a stellar international attraction.

Founded in 1947 by Walton Hall Smith and Newt Perry, Weeki Wachee and its featured attraction, mermaids, combined the allure of pinup girls with the wholesome talents of variety entertainers to create a daily schedule of underwater acts ranging from eating bananas and performing ballet to staging underwater musicals. For nearly 60 years, these mermaids with their underwater talents have attracted crowds of vacationers, film crews, and celebrities. Drawing on extensive archival research as well as interviews with dozens of mermaids and other park employees, Vickers traces the park's rise to prominence. Brilliantly illustrated with 250 stunning photos, the resulting work shows what it was like to be a mermaid at Weeki Wachee in its heyday.

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Editorial Reviews

Evelyn Small
Here's a blast from the past for anyone who ever detoured off highways to a kitschy roadside attraction…Lu Vickers supplies the text and Sara Dionne clearly spent countless hours collecting vintage photographs for this fun-filled history of an endangered species.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

When swimsuit-clad young women cavorted in the freshwater springs of Weeki Wachee, Fla., in October 1947, it seemed so fantastic, many visitors couldn't believe the performers were actually underwater. In this era before scuba, people were expected to drown if they stayed under for more than a few minutes. They certainly didn't dance ballet or eat bananas and drink soda pop underwater, like the Weeki Wachee mermaids did. For the next three decades, an ever-renewing roster of mermaids entertained growing crowds of roadside travelers and celebrity guests (Elvis himself hugged and kissed those mermaids). If Disney hadn't opened Magic Kingdom, and overdevelopment hadn't threatened the aquifer, Weeki Wachee might still be going strong today. But thanks to writer Vickers and designer Dionne, readers have backstage access to this classic American roadside attraction. From Vickers's interviews with retired "mermaids" and other employees, and Dionne's illustrative materials (over 200 publicity photos, advertising cards and other ephemera), readers get a feeling for the homegrown quality of this whole wonderfully quirky enterprise. While detail on their technological innovations and business decision making is interesting, what lingers with readers is a sense of how simply Americans amused themselves on the road, before all the franchises and theme parks took over. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813030418
  • Publisher: University Press of Florida
  • Publication date: 5/28/2007
  • Series: Florida History and Culture Series
  • Edition description: First
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 10.40 (w) x 7.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


Lu Vickers is a former Kingsbury Fellow from Florida State University and a two-time recipient of the Florida Individual Artist Grant for fiction, as well as a recipient of the 2002 Astraea Award for fiction. Her first novel, Breathing Underwater, is due out in 2007.
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