Never Quite Leaving
In 1960, thirteen years after Weeki Wachee Springs opened, the park began holding annual reunions. Any and all former mermaids were invited to join in a day of fun and games, costume contests, performances, and food. The annual reunions continued into the 1970s, becoming more sporadic after ABC sold the attraction.
Weeki Wachee Springs planned a large reunion for the park's 50th anniversary that attracted nearly four hundred former mermaids. Barbara Wynns was one of these former mermaids in attendance. She traveled to Weeki Wachee any time she could, and longed to perform again. Before the big reunion, the organizers asked former mermaids if they wanted to participate in a performance and Barbara jumped at the chance. "Well, they had sent out a mailer, 'Would you like to perform as a mermaid at the 50th reunion?' And so I said yes. And I got here the night before oddly enough with a broken rib from a car accident on the way down. And the next day everybody was going in and I went with the girl that sent the letter out. And I met her. I didn't swim with her [when I worked as a mermaid]. And um, my rib, I couldn’t breathe. These two ribs had hit the um, you know the arm rest, you know. So the seatbelt and all that saved me, but I was bruising." As she sat watching the other women practice, one woman started having chest pains and went to the hospital. Then the director of the reunion called off the performance altogether, dashing Barbara's hopes. "And I'm like, 'oh no!' I was that close, that close from getting in."
Vicki Smith describes the bond mermaids have with each other and to the position as a permanent part of her identity: "We were all comrades. We were all sisters,. We were all mermaids. And even today, if you move away and you hear the word mermaid, your eyes, your ears, you pick it up immediately and you want to know who in this room of people I don't know is saying that 'cause they must have been a mermaid at Weeki Wachee Springs."
Besides participating in reunions and keeping in touch with each other, some mermaids stay connected to Weeki Wachee Springs through their children. Lydia Dodson swam from 1969-1972. Her daughter Lauren followed in her footsteps, becoming a mermaid in the early 2000s. "My daughter was a mermaid…I saw the article in the newspaper and I said they were looking for mermaids. I knew nobody over here, ‘cause I really didn’t, I was still working at the post office. So I said, “You should go try out!” And she did and out of seven ladies, she was the only one they hired.” She became a mermaid in her senior year of high school in 2007. Lauren left in 2012, when she moved away to go to law school. Lydia remembers her daughter's first show: “Father’s Day." She started in April as a mermaid, and by June she was in a show already doing a stepsister number: stepsister two. We were all there: her dad, her mom, her brother. Yup.” Lydia never pushed her daughter to become a mermaid. The family did not even have a pool growing up. But Weeki Wachee was always a part of her family’s lives: “We were always here. Even her brother, he was two and I have him in a mermaid tail!”