Care and Feeding of a Mermaid


This film shows a young woman training to perform as a mermaid at Weeki Wachee, a Florida water park founded by Newton Perry (1908–87) after World War II. After serving in the U.S. Navy during the war, where among other duties he trained military divers, champion swimmer Perry scouted out locations for a water park. He found a major spring in a largely unpopulated area 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Tampa, with remarkably clear water that flowed to the Gulf of Mexico 16 miles (26 kilometers) away. To lure tourists to his attraction, in 1947 Perry constructed an underwater theater where people could view the wildlife in the springs. To further differentiate Weeki Wachee from other roadside attractions, Perry trained young women to stay underwater for long periods of time using his own innovative underwater tubing system for breathing. The swimmers performed underwater maneuvers and ballet. Perry advertised the mermaids of Weeki Wachee, which by the 1950s was one of the most popular attractions in the United States. In 1959, the American Broadcast Company bought the park, built a larger, 500-seat theatre that was embedded below ground in the side of the spring, and began promoting the spring across the nation. In this 1961 film, underwater cameras allow viewers see lessons in breath control, graceful movements, synchronized swimming, and underwater dining etiquette.

Last updated: May 20, 2016