After two years lost at sea, revelers celebrated the return of Coney Island’s beloved Mermaid Parade on Saturday, June 18.
The march of underwater creatures kicked off at 1 p.m. near the corner of West 21st and Surf Avenue. From there, it rolled east to West 10th Street, where marchers and push pull floats will take the Boardwalk to Steeplechase Plaza.
Singer-songwriter Mx Justin Vivian Bond served as this year’s Queen Mermaid alongside King Neptune, the city’s former health commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi.
On Saturday, more than 3,000 merpeople showed up for the event’s 40th iteration, despite chillier weather than in years past.
“This is one of the biggest events for the community and something that has been desperately really missing from the calendar of events, so I know that the businesses are really excited to have a coming back this year and really anticipating a large crowd,” Alexandra Silversmith, executive director of The Alliance for Coney Island, told Brooklyn Paper ahead of the spectacle.
Coney Island USA, the neighborhood’s eponymous public arts organization, has hosted the summer street festival since 1983 with three goals in mind — to give meaning behind the street names Mermaid and Neptune in Coney Island, to create “self-esteem in a district that is often disregarded as ‘entertainment,’” and provide an opportunity for “artistic New Yorkers [to] find self expression in public,” according to organizers.
Silversmith said Saturday was “a day to remember.”
“We were ecstatic to be part of the return of the Mermaid Parade and celebrate its 40th year,” she told Brooklyn Paper. “The creativity, energy and joy of the crowds and the Mermaids and Mermen was palpable. We already cannot wait for the 2023 Parade. Huge congratulations to Coney Island USA on a successful event.”
While each year the theme of the parade is centered around the underwater world, Coney Island USA Artistic Director Adam Rinn, has said the creativity and the underlying themes in the participants’ handmade costumes sets each year’s event apart from previous years.
“It’s really the creativity of the public, the marchers, the participants that bring that really cutting-edge creativity and artfulness and show it to the streets,” Rinn previously told Brooklyn Paper. “While each year, we don’t particularly theme the parade, you will always tend to see themes around and in the parade.”
This year’s extravaganza featured all types of costumes, including a set of full-gold mermaids, a sparkly sandcastle and even a beach-going Beetlejuice.
Parade-goers said a feeling of joy washed over the peninsula during this year’s festivities.
“It was absolutely the most fun event,” said Barbara Arnett, who dressed as a sandcastle with her sister Joanne. “Everybody that marched in the parade was really happy and just so glad to be there, and then all the people that were watching also just seemed so happy to see everybody. There was just such a happy atmosphere around the whole parade.”
Michele Perry, co-founder of performance art troupe Tails of Glory, shared similar sentiments.
“Oh my god, I can’t even believe it’s over,” she said Monday morning. “I’m still looking at pictures, reliving the moments. It was just, I think, one of the best parades I’ve ever had.”
Tails of Glory has participated in the Mermaid Parade for 20 years, Perry said, and are always in some kind of theme — from odes to musical theater like “West Side Story” and “Clamilton” to “Zombie Mermaid.” This year’s theme was “Golden Gills.”
“I love this year because it was about friendship so every time we did our routine, [we] just felt a burst of love,” Perry said, “and being away from the parade for two years it just felt so good to be back. It was great just to be there and the weather was good and the crowd was amazing. I just felt like the vibe was so upbeat and positive and happy.”
The group had kicked around this year’s theme for years, she added — and this time it finally felt right.
“For many years, we were joking about being the Golden Gills. We are actually getting to that age where it just feels natural, so we are limping around that was not acting,” Perry joked. “We actually were in pain.”
The event’s founder, unofficial mayor of Coney Island Dick Zigun, hit the streets for the affair as usual — despite his controversial departure from Coney Island USA late last year. Zigun last week reached a settlement with the freaky arts organization he co-founded, which he says allows him to retire with dignity and pursue other interests.
The “permanently unelected mayor,” known for founding the Mermaid Parade and leading the annual procession with a top hat and bass drum, was fired from Coney Island USA at the end of 2021, following a protracted dispute over the terms of his retirement and succession, and the intellectual property rights to stage the parade.
“The parade was a good parade,” Zigun told Brooklyn Paper. “It’s a huge success for the neighborhood just to reestablish the Mermaid Parade.”
Additional reporting by Ben Brachfeld