The Annual Mermaid Parade: Colors, Costumes, and Chaos

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Coney Island is already a pretty eventful spot by itself. The beach area hosts the Annual Hotdog Eating Contest on 4th of July, America’s biggest holiday. The Hotdog contest originated at the one and only Nathan’s and to date draws thousands of physical visitors to Coney in addition to millions of live viewers in front of the TV. Aside from it having a fantastic amusement park with more and more major attractions added each year, it is also home to the oldest wooden roller coaster in the US: the famous Cyclone. I once made the “mistake” of paying $8 for a ride that lasted 1 ½ minutes (beware, I heard they upped the price to $9 now) and came tumbling out of my cart soon after. I can see how some people complain about back pain after but it was certainly worth the experience and I can only recommend you trying it out if you are in the area.

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Coney and its neighborhood have been struck by the fatal Sandy, like so many other parts in Brooklyn and Queens close to the ocean. It went through its own process of rebuilding and -construction. As I have been fervidly following its Facebook tweed, I have seen the great progress it made from November 2012 until May 2013, when it re-opened its shining gates to yet another wild season. Every year, Luna Park is scheduled to open fully on Memorial Day Weekend and to close around the Hollow’s Eve weekend. Aside from its many attractions, a significant parade has been an important part of Coney’s repertoire for the past 31 years: The one and only Mermaid Parade!

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Now what exactly is this Parade about? It is held during the month of June, specifically around the weekend of June 21, as it symbolizes the beginning of summer. While at first I thought it was a Lesbian/Gay Parade aimed towards expanding Brooklyn’s repertoire to a fancy version of it, I did further research and found I was very wrong in this initial impression. The Mermaid Parade has three purposes, stated on its homepage: “It brings mythology to life for local residents who live on streets named Mermaid and Neptune ; it creates self-esteem in a district that is often disregarded as “entertainment”; and it lets artistic New Yorkers find self-expression in public.” Yes, you do see some gay floats and groups dance around in the crowd. But then you also have families dressing up with their children, floats of political statements driving through the crowd and drunken bystanders peeling out of their octopus costumes.

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For whatever reason, I didn’t find out about the Mermaid Parade until I had already lived here for 2 years. By pure coincidence, I had gotten off the train on a Saturday afternoon in June 2012 and immediately fell into a great chaos of loud obnoxious screaming drunken masses of people. Now, don’t’ get me wrong, Coney has the reputation of being always drunken and partly ghetto when it comes to its people. After all, the projects are right next to the amusement park. Way back in the 20s and 30ies it must have been a pretty beach but with Moses’ Housing Project, things drastically changed in the 60ies and 70ies. Such is New York, and mostly Brooklyn, all of this makes out its initial sketchy appeal with a flavor of exoticism mixed under it.

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But in the past few years, Coney has developed into one of the hottest tourist sightseeing spots and uppedy white people bring their kids here occasionally. However, this year it was very extreme and Sandy might have played a part in all of this. Through a humongous Kickstarter Campaign, the parade was able to initiate $100,000 in funds and donations, therefore still partaking. The final decision was made at the end of May and everyone was thrilled!

My friend donated to the Kickstarter Campaign and received this scribbled piece of paper in exchange....
My friend donated to the Kickstarter Campaign and received this scribbled piece of paper in exchange….

So the Parade seemed exactly what you would think of it with about a month’s time to prepare: Chaotic, sometimes long-stretched, and mostly not very original in costumes. Sure, you had some really great groups, you had an awesome local trumpet band, and you had creative floats. But during some intervals you had random families walk through the scene, holding children who were dressed up in a green blob as Mermaids and waving at the crowd. Not.very.original.at.all.

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Overall, I was glad to have seen the parade for the first time in full. It generated a huge crowd towards Coney during that weekend and that’s exactly what this area needed (bring in the money, hey!). However, after one hour of blinking into the blinding sun and looking at a few boring groups in the parade, my friends kinda had enough and went to a bar close to the subway station. Our luck that it wasn’t as overcrowded as after the parade. We only had to wait one hour for the food (does not include ordering, which took 30 minutes).

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Another group of friends joined us and was keen on checking out the boardwalk. The parade stretches from the main street all the way around and comes back over the boardwalk so I already predicted us getting stuck at some point. True enough, we couldn’t even cross the main street to get to our beloved Nathan’s, as police only let us do so in 15-minute-intervals. Once we were there, we saw how long the line was to order a petty hotdog (more than one hour!). My friends were not thrilled by this idea and wanted to check out the food options on the boardwalk. So we went through the entire amusement park, just to get stuck, literally, in a massive crowd of people on the boardwalk. No way we’d get food here, either.

All I see is PEOPLE!
All I see is PEOPLE!

Somehow we made it back to the bar, the entire excursion taking us over 1 hour, which normally wouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes. Just to give you an idea of how crowded it was. So the parade was over by then and friend group number 1 (number 2 had successfully vanished in the subway station) was fed, drunk, and ready to check out the beach. Which happened to be swamped by unhealthy corpses of party people (big surprise here). We were in the sand, packed like sardines in a can, while a few of my friends jumped into the water (they assured me it was only cold for the first 10 seconds or so) but were freezing once a high wind hit us on the beach.

Beach "fun"!
Beach “fun”!

After another hour of lying around in a rave-like atmosphere we had enough of the fact that sand was being kicked in our faces every five seconds minutes and went off to the boardwalk. It was here that my foot hit a fatal plank, which tore my sole apart wounded it painfully. After dripping water on it, I decided it would be best to just go home and treat it under more normal conditions and with rubbing alcohol. My friends stayed and I am sure they had a drunkenly fun time…

So, in conclusion, the Mermaid Parade can be great fun and a once-in-lifetime experience. It’s worth taking tons of meaningless colorful pictures. Be aware of loose planks on the boardwalk. And make sure you get your 12-hour-sleep thereafter!

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4 thoughts on “The Annual Mermaid Parade: Colors, Costumes, and Chaos

    • Yes, it was extreme. All parades in NY are kinda like it, though. But Coney also offers other things, such as their amusement park, which is why there were even more people than you’d see at any other parade.

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