Each year, visitors from around the country travel to visit New York’s Coney Island Mermaid Parade. Held during the last week of June, the event showcases thousands of participants elaborately costumed as mythical sea creatures while scores of spectators seek to escape the heat and cheer them on. The largest art parade in the nation, the Mermaid Parade attracts hundreds of thousands of revelers to celebrate the beginning of the summer season.
History and Triumph
The history of the event begins with Dick Zigun, a man affectionately dubbed the “Mayor of Coney Island.” In 1983, his non-profit charity Coney Island USA, organized the first Mermaid Parade as an American version of the summer solstice celebrations. The yearly spectacle showcases nautical-themed pageantry and community pride, while providing it’s artistic participants a public forum for self-expression. The event has become a local holiday, drawing hundreds of thousands to the iconic seaside resort each year.
In June of 2013, the Mermaid Parade faced a struggle for survival after the non-profit sustained over $400,000 in damages as a result of Hurricane Sandy. Unable to cover the costs of expenses like permits, insurance, security, and food, Coney Island USA launched a crowdfunding campaign on the popular website Kickstarter to help save the parade from extinction. The grassroots movement included slogans such as “Save the Coney Island Mermaid from Extinction,” and succeeded in raising over $117,000 in donations, allowing the parade to continue.
“I donated,” says photographer Joe Alfano. “I’ve been going to Coney Island since I was a kid, so it was important to me. I love the Mermaid Parade.”
Niche Artists, Mythical Sea Dwellers, and Savvy Revelers
Floats, music groups, individual marchers, and even marching troupes are part of the annual Mermaid Parade. Each year, judges lightheartedly encouraging bribery choose select winners from select categories, most noteworthy of which are the annual King Neptune and Queen Mermaid.
The parade has also become a place to foster niche / unique small businesses involved in the arts such as Maryland-based wearable art designer Rae Beth Designs. “It’s an awesome experience to be a part of the celebration, and we create a new piece specifically for the event each year!,” says owner Rae Beth.
Body artist and makeup designer Tash Kouri cheekily remarks with a smile “The Mermaid Parade is my one day of unabashed vanity, so deal with it!”
Visitors savvy enough to arrive early, can treat themselves to one of Nathan’s Famous hot dogs, before lines circle the block. They can also likely catch a glimpse of press photographers and participants alike headed to the staging area. Inside, marchers ready their costumes and pose for photos in areas designated as “family-friendly” and well, “not-so-family-friendly.”
“The staging area is a blast!” states photographer Mark Stein. “I come every year!”
At the conclusion of a long day of revelry, visitors will find the gates cast open for free subway admission on the return trip to New York Penn Station. It has become a tradition to bid farewell to the mermaid guests and welcome the summer in this fashion.
Parade Schedule and Route
The Mermaid Parade starts at 1 pm, beginning on West 21st and Surf Ave. It travels eastward to West 10th street and turns onto the boardwalk headed back toward Steeplechase Plaza. Here the parade usually wraps up and disbands around 4 pm.
How to get there
From Midtown Manhattan, take the D, Q, N or F train to Stillwell Avenue. This will put you at the foot of Nathan’s Famous and directly on the parade route.
Bus routes available: B36 (Coney Island / Avenue U/Sheepshead Bay), B64 (Coney Island / Bay Ridge), B68 (Coney Island / Windsor Terrace), B74 (Sea Gate / Coney Island), B82 (Coney Island / Spring Creek)
Travel by car strongly not recommended on the island’s busiest day of the year.
Visit www.coneyisland.com/tourist-information for more information.