Hundreds of thousands of people descended on Coney Island Saturday afternoon, June 22, for the annual event that draws the creatures of the sea out onto land in a celebration of eccentrics, art and summer.
The 37th annual Mermaid Parade took over the neighborhood’s amusement district, featuring revelers decked out in seafaring attire and reportedly drawing over 800,000 people to Coney. It is considered the largest artistic parade in the country.
“The sun is here. It rained all week didn’t it, but the sun is here. The solstice is here,” said Dick Zigun, the parade’s founder.
Zigun, the permanently unelected mayor of Coney Island, founded the event in 1983 as a way to pay homage to the neighborhood’s art community. This year, he welcomed two Coney Island natives back to the shore as the parade’s King Neptune and Queen Mermaid: siblings Arlo and Nora Guthrie.
The two are children of the iconic folk singer Woody Guthrie, and they are the first king and queen actually to have lived on Mermaid Avenue.
“This is the air that birthed us, this is the sand that birthed us,” Nora Guthrie said at an early-morning street co-naming for her father. “We’re kind of like amphibious. We crawled in from the sea and got as far as Mermaid Avenue.”
The parade not only puts barely-dressed mermaids in the spotlight, it encourages spectators to dress up and join in on the fun, turning the area into a comingling of land and sea creatures that keeps up for hours after the parade concludes. Those people, Arlo Guthrie said, are one of the reasons his father loved living in Coney Island.
“He loved being here among all the regular people of the world who seemed to be coalescing right here in this one spot,” Guthrie said.