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Coney Island's Annual Mermaid Parade a Special Treat

Ellen Levitt

Posted on June 23, 2019 10:01

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The 2019 Mermaid Parade, an outrageous and joyous spectacle, had special historic importance this year.

You know summer is here when the annual Mermaid Parade makes a joyous noise in Coney Island. Held in late June on a Saturday, this spectacle draws hundreds of marchers and thousands of onlookers, many of whom are also dressed up outrageously. Individual, group, and family marchers, as well as floats, antique cars, marching bands, and others parade along Surf Avenue (near the beach, the Boardwalk, and the iconic original Nathan's Hotdogs restaurant) to cheers and hoopla. 

This wild parade began in 1983, organized by Dick Zigun, the unofficial mayor of Coney Island. It's not only a fun event and a media sensation but also a fundraiser for the group Coney Island USA and a big promotional event for the amusement parks, eateries, and businesses located in Coney.

I've long had great affection for this event, and I volunteered my time for it twice in the late 1980s, helping to organize marchers and work with police officers assigned to assist. In the past I've brought my children and some friends to the parade, but this time I went myself.

The subway train I boarded to Coney Island was packed with revelers, many clad in funny and even risqué costumes. When we all walked downstairs out of the Stillwell Avenue train station, one stern-faced woman stood with a clapboard sign, one side rendered in English, the other in Spanish; she declared us all sinners for marching or watching. She was ignored by almost everyone.

The sky was clear and the sun was strong, and people of all ages walked around. Many searched for good viewing spots and some posed for photographs. 

I found a good spot a few short blocks west of the station, and the opening entrance to the parade was two fire trucks with fire fighters gently spraying onlookers with water. Following them were Dick Zigun himself, holding a giant key prop, a drummer, and a few other greeters. 

Then came King Neptune and Queen Mermaid, pushed in a wheeled chaise chair. Each year two celebrities are selected for this honor, and this time the honorees were Arlo and Nora Guthrie, two of the children of the legendary singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie. This was a very special choice because they lived in Coney Island for many years as children; it's not well-known that their father (best known for "This Land is Your Land") lived in Coney for several years (and the last years of his life were spent in a hospital in neighboring Queens). Recently the street they lived on in Coney Island was co-named for their father.

For those of us who are fans of folk music and Americana, it was so wonderful to see these two basking in the cheers of parade-goers. 

After them I watched several cool antique cars drive by, fun floats, a marching band, and many costumed people. There was a big LGBTQ presence and rainbow flags flapped in the wind everywhere. 

It was a proud, loud, enjoyable Brooklyn day. 

Ellen Levitt

Posted on June 23, 2019 10:01

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A sea of colorful costumes filled Coney Island Saturday for the 34th annual Mermaid Parade.

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