Aquarama, World-Famous Mermaid Attraction

19 May

Photo of Aquarama founder Wally Johl, 1964. Photo courtesy of Marc Johl, via Vinatge Roadside from whom I stole it

So look at this amazing upcoming event at a tiki festival (!) in Fort Lauderdale where you can go hear all about the Weeki-Wachee-Springs-inspired “World Famous Mermaid Attraction” AQUARAMA, which opened in 1964 in Osage Beach, Missouri (Weeki opened in 1947). That is right: Aquarama. I too think it is the best name I’ve ever heard for anything ever (except maybe Weeki Wachee, and/or the title my friend David recently suggested for my in-progress noir, GUNS:1, LOVE: 0).

The event itself is a symposium called “Beautiful Girls that Live like Fish!: The Story of Aquarama, the World-Famous Mermaid Attraction,” is presented by Vintage Roadside, and will be held Saturday, June 11, at 11:30 a.m. at the Bahia Mar in Fort Lauderdale. After, Marina MeduSirena [read this blog’s interview with her here] will be leading a Q&A about Aquarama specifically, aquatic retrotainment generally, and mermaids universally. I myself would absolutely 1000% be at this event if I weren’t, in a cruel twist of fate, already going to be participating in Weeki’s Sirens of the Deep MERMAID CAMP.

Below is the press release for the symposium, and if you visit Vintage Roadside’s blog you can read all kinds of interviews with ex aquamaids and aqualads from Aquarama which I am totally jealous of and secretly believe should be on this blog instead. I did steal all these photos from Vintage Roadside’s blog, however.

I also spoke with Jeff from Vintage Roadside, who told me how five years ago he and his partner Kelly found an old brochure from Aquarama, and went on to produce their own Aquarama t-shirt, which I want, and began piecing together the history… and then a little over two years ago they found their first Aquamaid when she ordered one of the shirts, and just over a year ago they began their friendship with the founding family of Aquarama, the Johls. And then, just recently, they located Barbara, a former Weeki Wachee mermaid who trained the original 1964 cast, and spent some time with her learning more about her history. Now, that showoff Jeff says, they’ve spoken with 35 of the 37 employees that worked at the Aquarama from 1964 to 1968. Which means that their June 11th presentation will be extremely awesome and include original audio narration used during the performances, home movies taken during the 1964 season (possibly the only video footage in existence), and tons of official cast photos and candid snap shots. ETC.


Splash back in time with Aquarama and mermaids of yesteryear at The Hukilau

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – April 6, 2011 – 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!”

Marina with Jeff and Kelly. Photo courtesy of Michael Contos, via Vintage Roadside

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
11:30 a.m. at the Bahia Mar. Admission is $20.

Experience an exotic escape during The Hukilau, June 9-12, 2011 at the Bahia Cabana, Bahia Mar and the Mai-Kai Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Festival admission prices are $25-$110.

Press Contact:
Sandra Carr, The Hukilau PR

One Response to “Aquarama, World-Famous Mermaid Attraction”

  1. Brian Clouse June 18, 2011 at 12:21 PM #

    It’s a shame you couldn’t make it for this presentation. It was fabulous. I laughed, I cried, I had a great time. They presented family videos, show audio and even had original costumes to display. All around a great presentation that I’m thrilled I got to see.

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