Magnificent mermaids tempted sailors with their beauty long ago and continue their sea seduction today. Roadside attractions paid tribute to these oceanic goddesses throughout the 1960s, including Aquarama, the “World-Famous Mermaid Attraction.”
Inspired by Florida’s Weeki Wachee, the Aquarama’s owners Wally and Nola Johl began their mermaid adventure in Osage Beach, Mo. in 1964. The show featured Aquamaids and Aqualads performing choreographed and costumed underwater acts, including monster fights, gypsy dances and a beautiful curvaceous bull sparring with a Spanish matador—an irresistible attraction for Lake of the Ozarks vacationers.
Vintage Roadside, a company dedicated to preserving the history of mom and pop roadside businesses of the 1930s-1960s, has unearthed a time capsule of Aquarama and 1960s mermaid attraction memories through vintage photos, original 1964 home movies and other material, most of which has not been seen in more than 40 years, gathered from interviews with numerous Aquamaids and Aqualads and the son of Aquarama’s founders Marc Johl and will be revealed during their “Beautiful Girls that Live like Fish!: The Story of Aquarama, the World-Famous Mermaid Attraction” symposium at The Hukilau Tiki festival in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Aquarama was a testament of a vision that became a reality.
“Mermaids in Missouri were an unexpected combination and it’s the reason we find Aquarama fascinating,” say Vintage Roadside owners Jeff Kunkle and Kelly Burg. “To us, these roadside attractions represent the dreams of someone who took a chance. It takes a special person to say that they’re going to quit their job and spend their life savings to open a mermaid attraction!”
Aquatic performer Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid will be participating in a Q & A and a mermaid show-and-tell during the symposium. She has been a retro-aquatic performer and stunt dancer for more than 20 years and keeps the mermaid spirit alive during her mermaid and pearl diver performances at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel’s Wreck Bar.
“It isn’t just about the mermaid culture—it’s about the aquatic dance and that’s what must be preserved,” explains Marina. “The golden age of tourism brought aquatic dance to the forefront with dive shows and spectacles just about everywhere. It’s heartbreaking to see this art form disappearing. If I can restore a bit of the art form and start a new generation of performers with an interest in the physical discipline, then I’ll be a very happy Aquaticat.”
Tikiphiles and mermaid and roadside aficionados will unite and find a common bond during Vintage Roadside’s Aquarama symposium.
“Mermaids give us a chance to escape to another world of frivolity and allow our imaginations to run wild,” explains The Hukilau Founder and Producer Christie J. White. “Tiki culture allows us to escape into a world where the Rum flows like lava and we’re all filled with the Aloha Spirit and transported into another time and place, even beyond Hawaii—they both relate simply because we all like to make believe.”
Vintage Roadside sells vintage T-shirts featuring original advertising graphics of long- gone roadside attractions and their fine art photography showcases neon, painted signs, vintage architecture and fiberglass giants captured on their extensive road trips across the country. Vintage Roadside’s “Beautiful Girls that Live like Fish!: The Story of Aquarama, the World-Famous Mermaid Attraction” symposium is Saturday, June 11 at 12:30 p.m. at the Bahia Mar. Admission is $20. Learn more about Vintage Roadside at http://vintageroadside.com/.
Experience an exotic escape during The Hukilau, June 9-12, 2011 at the Bahia Cabana, Bahia Mar and the Mai-Kai Restaurantin Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Festival admission prices are $25-$135. For more information, visit www.thehukilau.com.
Find out more about Vintage Roadside’s symposium at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Vintage-Roadside/74721179288.