Where Mythology Comes Alive...Go anywhere in Coney Island and chances are that you've walked down Mermaid or Neptune Avenues. These roads recall with wistful affection the fabled history of Coney Island in its heyday. They're also the inspiration for the Mermaid Parade.
In 1983 residents on Coney Island organized the first Mermaid Parade with 300 participants and 10,000 spectators. The idea was to bring the area's seafaring mythology to life for people who lived in this small enclave in Brooklyn. The parade was also meant to boost the morale of an area known primarily as the "People's Playground," and often associated with the seedier side of entertainment.These days the event in Coney Island attracts more than 800,000 people.
The Largest in the Country...The parade is considered an "art parade," allowing New Yorkers to express themselves through handmade floats and costumes. Organizers say it's the largest parade of its kind in the United States.Others have tried to copy the parade. The Mermaid Parade has sent out cease-and-disist letters to events in Portland, Oregon, and Chicago. Organizers in Coney Island say they don't mind other parades showing their creative side, or even having a nautical theme, but they don't want parades stealing their name and traditions.
The Mermaid Parade Is Not The First...But the Mermaid Parade isn't the first spectacle to roll down Surf Avenue. In 1903, in its gilded age, Coney Island hosted a week long Mardi Gras festival. It had nothing to do with Lent, instead business organized the event to raise money for the Mission and Rescue Home for Wayward Girls, which burned down that same year.While the Mermaid Parade heralds the beginning of summer, Coney Island Mardi Gras parades were held in mid-September, as amusement parks were shutting down, to close out the summer season.Organizers held the last Mardi Gras parade on Coney Island in 1954. By then it had gained the infamous reputation of being "an orgy of cheap glitter and thrills," and for attracting gangs of hooligans.
It Almost Didn't Happen...The Mermaid Parade almost didn't happen. Residents first pitched a Fourth of July parade which was turned down by Coney Island's Community Board. The reason: July 4th was just too busy. So organizers chose the middle of June and turned the parade into an American version of a summer-solstice celebration. Now the parade rivals the Fourth as the busiest day of the year on Coney Island.
Good For the Whole Family...It takes about an hour to get to the parade from many places in the city. It's a long way, but some believe the distance helps discourage troublemakers from showing up to the festivities.The parade's gregarious nature, and its focus on art and self-expression, has made the parade a family-friendly affair. Every year hundreds of children and their parents either line up to view the parade, or dress up and participate. The event is fun for people of all ages and, really, brings out the kid in all of us.
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