Wacky Mermaid parade to go swimmingly, organizers predict

Women dressed as mermaids prepare to march before Women dressed as mermaids prepare to march before the start of the 2009 Mermaid Parade at Coney Island in Brooklyn. (June 20, 2009) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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After nearly being sunk by superstorm Sandy, the 30-year-old Mermaid Day Parade will march victoriously in Coney Island on Saturday.

For many, the event is proof that Coney Island -- and Brooklyn as a whole -- is getting back to normal.

Financially shaken by Sandy, organizer Coney Island USA nearly couldn't afford to produce the parade this year, which would have stranded the wacky procession of tuba-playing Poseidons, tattooed mermaids and mermen, human seaweed and other costumed enthusiasts from celebrating the start of summer and the pleasures of Coney Island.

But donors small and large gave to a "Don't Be Shellfish" Kickstarter campaign that surpassed its goal and raised $117,000 before costs.

"We are definitely feeling the love," said parade founder Dick Zigun, who also is artistic director for Coney Island USA.

Coney Island USA hosts the parade and operates the Coney Island Museum, which remains closed, and the Coney Island Sideshow and Bar. All suffered Sandy-related damage.

Last year's parade was the most popular ever, drawing 750,000 people.

"We set the all time Kickstarter record for the most money raised for a public art event," Zigun said. The "miraculous" public response "is gratifying and humbling and it's done a lot for our spirits as well as the neighborhood's spirit," he said.

"It has much more significance this year because the waterfront really has taken a beating," said Deborah Schwartz, president of the Brooklyn Historical Society.

"This year, the parade is special because we struggled so hard to rebuild," said Lola Star, owner of a souvenir boutique on the boardwalk.

Carlo A. Scissura, president and chief executive of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, said the parade generates "millions of dollars" for Coney Island.

Participants are psyched. "I stand for everything the Mermaid Day Parade stands for: individuality, creativity, uniqueness and a little bit of edge," said Joanna Trumino, 25, a dog day care manager from Fresh Meadows.

Mermaid Day has become a critical part of Brooklyn's identity, said Schwartz. The giddy procession of individualists "is a celebration of everything people love about the beach, about summer, about being near water, and it's a uniquely Brooklyn version of that -- edgy, playful, outrageous and yet, friendly," said Schwartz. "It gives people a license to let loose and be joyous."

The only comparably organic, grass roots parade in the city is the Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village, Schwartz said, but that event, said Brooklyn Borough Historian Ron Schweiger, occurs in colder weather and cannot quite compete with the flesh that will probably be on display Saturday, especially given the auspicious weather forecast.

Toplessness is an established Mermaid tradition, Zigun acknowledged. "You just cannot be lewd and you cannot be commercial," nor can you attend bottomless, he said. There have been at least three women arrested for public indecency at the parade over the years, but they all eventually received nice, plump settlements after suing the city, Zigun said.

-- amNewYork

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