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Coney Island's 41st Annual Mermaid Parade: Here's how it went in 2023

Leonid Rayevsky

journalist, travel guide and guide


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Mermaid Parade traditionally gathers its admirers on Coney Island (southwestern part of Brooklyn, New York) and is the largest art parade in the United States. Every year it takes place in June (actually marks the beginning of the summer season), on the Saturday closest to the summer solstice. Regardless of the weather. This year, 2023, this day fell on Saturday 17 June. This kind of parades or carnivals, as a rule, are held all over the world on the eve of spring. Here it is at the beginning of summer. The holiday has no ethnic, religious or commercial purposes. We can say that he continues the tradition of the Mardi Gras parades (better known as the celebration of Shrovetide or Shrove Tuesday) held on Coney Island in the early twentieth century.

Here and below the photo of the author, unless otherwise indicated in the signature

Then Coney Island was the main amusement park for New Yorkers, and its ocean boardwalk and beach were the best in the city. The area was limited Brighton Beach и Manhattan Beach in the east Lower New York Bay in the south and west, Gravesend in the north and region Sea Gate in the West. However, it is generally accepted that this part of the peninsula consists of three parts: Coney Island itself, Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach. This is if you linger at the popular Tatyana restaurant on Brighton Beach, then Coney Island will be behind you, and Manhattan Beach straight ahead - on the horizon.

It is quite natural that a resort was born on this island, named by the Indians for the bright sun "Land without a shadow", a few centuries later. When the Europeans forced them out, the island began to be called ConyneEylandt (in Dutch - "hare island"). And since the 1800th century, it has already become known under the modern name of Coney Island. By the mid-5s, wealthy citizens began to actively develop this part of Brooklyn. They came here, on the Atlantic coast, to relax in luxury hotels. But at the beginning of the XNUMXth century, the narrow strip of the strait separating the island from the mainland was covered with sand and the island turned into a peninsula. Bars, nightclubs, attractions and various entertainment venues began to open on its territory. And if earlier only relatively wealthy citizens could enjoy these places, now it is possible to quickly and cheaply get to these places for all adventure lovers (even those with small incomes) who want to relax on the coast. You could get here by subway for XNUMX cents.

On the shore, in the immediate vicinity of the beaches, amusement parks began to grow like mushrooms, which became the progenitors of all the amusement parks in the world, including Disneyland. It was here that the rollercoaster (1884) was created, about which test pilot Charles Linberg said that the ride on them is more impressive than his flight across the Atlantic. And the world's first indoor amusement park (1895) was also here. And how many amusement parks have been created around the world! They all owe their name to one of Coney Island's three original parks, and to the defunct first Luna Park (1903-1946). It was here that Thomas Edison lit his first electric light bulb in 1879. It was here that the 30-story building was located in the shape of a giant elephant, which tourists arriving by ship in the city admired before the appearance of the Statue of Liberty, until it burned down in 1896.

Photo: Library of Congress

It was the dream, joy and pride of ordinary New Yorkers. Their fellow countryman O. Henry wrote about this beautifully. Of particular interest is his story "The Penny Admirer" about how one day Irving Carter (artist, millionaire, poet and motorist), having fallen in love with a saleswoman in the men's gloves department of Macy's department store, decided to marry her.

“- We will move from place to place and see what only the soul wants. From Europe we will go to India and get acquainted with its ancient cities. We will travel on elephants, visit the fabulous temples of Hindus and Brahmins. We will see the dwarf gardens of the Japanese, camel caravans and chariot races in Persia - everything, everything that is worth seeing in foreign countries. Isn't that amazing, Maisie?" Carter told her. But she left without answering him. And in the morning, when a friend asked her about a date, she said contemptuously:

“I gave him my resignation. Imagine, Lulu, what this fellow took into his head...

- Get you on stage? Lulu gasped.

- Well, keep your pocket, you will wait from this. He asked me to marry him and instead of a honeymoon ride with him to Coney Island.

But these wonderful parks have been rebuilt and transformed many times over the years. The latest of these was modeled after the illustrious predecessor in 2010 and offered nineteen new rides. It was named after the historic Coney Island Luna Park, which was destroyed by fire in 1944. Next to it, Scream Zone emerged in 2011, offering only four rides. Two of them, built in recent decades, are new.

Next to them is the New York Aquarium, built in 1957, overlooking the embankment. Since 2018, an attraction has been built here that allows you to watch the games of sea lions and otters.

Here, on the corner of Surf Avenue and Stillwell Avenue, you can visit the historic diner - Nathan's Famous Frankfurters. Frankfurters are hot dogs that, in 1916, Polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker began making according to the recipe of his wife Ida. His clients included Al Capone, Cary Grant and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It is believed that Roosevelt treated them to the British royal family in 1939 and ordered them for himself in Yalta when he met Churchill and Stalin there.

This diner is a corner of old Coney Island, as is the parachute tower near Luna Park. It was built for the 1939 World's Fair - important guests climbed 58 meters and parachuted. Now the tower is not working, but it has been completely restored and rises above the wooden embankment as a reminder of the former New York. This year the embankment celebrated its centenary, since it was put into operation on May 15, 1923. The 24-meter-wide boardwalk then stretched from West 37th Street to the Ocean Parkway. Between 1938 and 1941, the boardwalk was extended to East 14th Street. Thus, it stretched for 4,3 km. The wooden deck consisted of 1,3 million boards, which were attached with 15,6 million screws and nails.

And among this historical splendor - a beautiful promenade, an aquarium, amusement parks with a tower, a hot dog restaurant, the oldest metro stations in the city - the Mermaid Parade is now taking place. According to the organizers, the main task of this incredibly spectacular event to this day remains the embodiment of mythology (especially for families living on Neptune and Mermaid streets). It is also important to draw attention to this interesting area, which has invaluable merits in development of urban entertainment and recreation.

The Parade was first held in 1983 at the initiative of Dick Zigun, former Artistic Director of the Coney Island non-profit organization for the arts CIUSA. This program is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Culture in partnership with the City Council. This year it is held for the 41st time. Traditionally, participants register in advance online, but latecomers could do so from 10:00 am to 13:00 pm at the registration center on Surf Avenue between 21st and 22nd streets. Prices are generally democratic - $ 35, and for students, pensioners and residents of the area - much cheaper.


The stands for spectators and judges were located between 22nd and 24th streets, and a special exhibition of old rare cars could be seen between 21st and 22nd streets. The procession moved along a pre-approved route and started at 13:21 from the intersection of West 10st and Surf Avenue. It then proceeded east along West 16th Street, where the marchers turned toward the Promenade. Then we walked along it so that by 16 o'clock (now along the Boardwalk - a wooden deck along the beach) we reached the square near the former Parachute Tower - an ancient rarity of the embankment. Here the Parade disbands, so that at XNUMX o'clock on the sandy shore, near the water, begin its final action - the official beach opening ceremony of the summer swimming season.

As a rule, the main protagonist of this kind of parades are the so-called chariots, or specially prepared car platforms (moved by buses or cars), on which all kinds of thematic compositions are placed, actors and musical groups perform. They were presented here in all their glory. Here we have a platform illustrating the main achievements of the neighboring Aquarium.

And these are the platforms of numerous musical groups.

And although they perform in ordinary clothes, they try to observe the paraphernalia of the holiday. So the mermaid allegedly caught in the net was attached to the platform, although they didn’t guess with the “teles”. But the holiday was revived and contributed to the general fun.

And this is the attributes of a pirate ship: both the flag and the skeleton are present, but those sitting in it are so cheerful and cheerful that no matter how they frighten us, we are not afraid, but funny and fun.

And this company settled in an ordinary old bus: they dragged a chair onto the roof, put a happy modern mermaid in it and get high with her ... and with us.

And here is the seller of balloons on his own transport presents us with an inflatable seahorse.

The next obligatory component of the parades are the performances of orchestras - and we have drummers.

And this is another orchestra. Remember him - he will accompany the Parade King and the Mermaid Queen at the conclusion of the Parade.

But we know that the retinue makes the king. And that is why the creation of an atmosphere of boundless fun, openness and festive aura falls entirely on the three thousandth army of ordinary participants, who charge hundreds of thousands of holiday guests with their outfits, openness and cordiality. They invite us to a world where the bright sun, light breeze, bright colors, friendly smiles and endless sparkling music reign.

By tradition, the King of the Parade and the Queen of the Mermaids open the action. We will meet with them at the end of the Parade.

Among the guests there are also their Neptunes.

And not at all scary jellyfish.

And here is a lamprey, or maybe a sea snake. But judging by the smile - infinitely satisfied with life.

As is this shark worshiper.

True, his colleague turned out to be more inventive.

And this algae lover apparently drank too much.

Probably met with such an Ocean wave.

Here, on the ocean and its beaches, it is well known that since 1992 New York law has allowed women to be topless in public places. So why should the holiday associated with the opening of the season be an exception?

And this man is trying to keep up, but in a very peculiar way.

This participant expressed himself in his own way.

The representative of the LGBT community with his multi-colored flag reminded those present that in a week, on June 25, another famous Gay Pride will be held in New York, which will be attended by lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders, as well as everyone who wants to support them.

This environmentalist shows us the amount of rubbish we have to clean up on the ocean every day.

And these are already fantastic fighters for cleanliness on the streets of the city.

And now the Parade is coming to an end. One of its participants reminds those who are in a hurry to go home by public transport that they should purchase the appropriate ticket.

But most of the guests stay to relax on the shore visiting all kinds of attractions, drinking establishments, as well as many souvenir shops and stalls.

Guests of the Parade had the opportunity to attend a special circus performance Coney Island Circus Sideshow, which on this day worked according to a special program with "continuous entry", in which it was possible to watch the show an infinite number of times.

Say, when you see the same act for the second time, you can get up and leave ... but only if you yourself want to.


And already at the end of the holiday, in a visit to the Coney Island Brewery, the guests and participants of the Parade (from 17:00) were waiting for the final Ball - The Mermaid Parade Ball with a large festive program.

However, it is still not evening, we return to the ocean. Take a look at the photo. The time is already 15:56, and we, together with the hostess and her dog, hurried to watch the final action of the Parade.

A large women's band, lined up in waiting on the Boardwalk, at exactly 16:00 began its movement from a wooden deck across the sand to the water's edge.

Ahead is the Parade King and the Mermaid Queen. Three times, fortunately, they cut the ribbon in front of them with huge scissors.

And so they entered the waters of the Ocean and slowly move into its depths. Freeze with a large basket of gifts to Neptune. A bottle of champagne and fruit can be seen from afar. The decisive moment has come. The retinue of mermaids accompanying the king froze, scattering confetti and sweets. And as soon as the waves picked up the gifts of the King, a heavy downpour immediately poured. So in 2023, the summer swimming season was opened and the Mermaid Parade was completed. It remains to be hoped that these were cleansing tears of heaven. Tears of parting with the past winter and the protracted spring. Have a hot, sunny and happy summer! Until we meet again on new holidays.

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