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Gills and girls: The annual Mermaid Parade resurfaces

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By Helen Klein

Flashes of fishtails, a slew of sequins and more than a splash of sass will characterize Coney Island’s annual ode to summer, the Mermaid Parade.

The event, which is scheduled to kick off at 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 21, brings approximately 500,000 spectators to the seaside community, eager to enjoy the antics of the costumed marchers, who number about 1,000.

The parade begins at the foot of West 10th Street, at the Boardwalk, and proceeds along the Boardwalk to West 15th Street, where marchers turn to make their way over to Surf Avenue, and back along that street to West 10th Street.

The eye-catching event, stressed impresario Dick Zigun, the founder of Coney Island U.S.A., is “just a wacky day at Coney Island, the way New York City celebrates summer.”

There’s also a bit of a serious message to the day’s festivities, which will be taking place in a neighborhood on the cusp of major change. “A lot of what’s coming to the parade,” Zigun explained, “will deal with the issues of the Coney Island redevelopment in an entertaining, artistic way.”

This year, Zigun said, the parade will feature the Reverend Billy as King Neptune and his wife, Savitri D, as Queen Mermaid. The Reverend Billy, said Zigun, is “a wonderful phony reverend who preaches the stop-shopping gospel.” He and his wife, Zigun added, “will come with a 30 member chorus singing behind them.”

For “pure fun,” he added, there will be the Aqua String Band from Philadelphia, “Part of the Mummer tradition, a 40 piece band of blue collar guys wearing sequins and dressed as fish.”

There will also be, “Brooklyn’s own Hungry Marching Band,” which, said Zigun, is, “As wild and crazy as a marching band gets. None of their uniforms match, and they all go in different directions. They’re not synchronized but yet they are a wonderful marching band.”

There’s also a slew of antique cars that join the promenade -- about 50 are expected this year, said Zigun.

And, of course, there will be sea creatures, said Zigun, “People dressed as mermaids, as cans of tuna. We usually have mermaids from Mars and mermaids from Hell, mermaids from everywhere. If you’re nautical looking, we’ll take you. As long as you’re fishy, it’s part of the fun.”

An afternoon of fun turns into an evening of entertainment for those who head from the parade to the Mermaid Parade Ball, now six years young, which will be held at the old Child’s Restaurant building, at the Boardwalk and West 21st Street.

While the building is normally closed to the public, it is opened for this spectacular event from the conclusion of the parade till 11 p.m. “It’s a way to keep the party going, where you’re appropriately dressed if you still have a sea tail on and seaweed in your hair,” noted Zigun.

Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door; VIP tickets cost $50 and entitle their holders to entrance into the VIP section, where, noted Zigun, “The drinks and refreshments are much better.”

For further information, to register or to buy tickets for the Mermaid Parade Ball, go to Coney Island USA’s website. www.coneyisland. com.

The Mermaid Parade was started by Coney Island USA in 1983 as a tribute to the area’s fabled Mardi Gras, which was held from 1903 through 1954.

Originated by the manager of one of the area’s historic amusement parks, Dreamland, the Mardi Gras featured costumed participants and elaborate floats that cruised along Surf Avenue, and served as the grand finale of the summer season.

“The march down Surf Avenue…was a picturesque sight,” the New York Times reported in a 1909 article. “The avenue, at some places, was two feet deep with confetti…. In front of the compact line of policemen 10,000 men and women went stumbling forward, jostling one another, falling now and then, jumping up laughing, throwing confetti, and brandishing ticklers, and trumpeting horns to the last.”

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