1940s: The Beginning of a Legacy


The original underwater theater at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Florida, taken around 1950.

Newton "Newt" Perry was born in Valdosta, Georgia, in 1908, and moved with his family to Ocala, Florida, in 1922. He was a member of the swimming and diving teams at the University of Florida. Perry earned the nickname "The Human Fish" for his performances of underwater stunts in advertising clips and film shorts, and acted as a swim double for actors in movies and TV shows, including Johnny Weissmuller as "Tarzan." Perry also advised filmmakers filming underwater scenes at Silver Springs, Wakulla Springs, and Weeki Wachee Springs. He developed a system for breathing underwater using an air compressor and hose, which was used in the 1948 film "Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid" as well as during Weeki Wachee Springs' underwater shows.


An underwater filming scene showing Newton "Newt" Perry in a diving helmet at an underwater camera, some time between 1950 and 1970. This photograph may be either from Weeki Wachee Springs or from Newton "Newt" Perry's career as an underwater filmmaker.

Perry worked as a lifeguard, public school principal, coach, swimming and scuba diving instructor, and Ocala city pool manager. He opened Perry's swim school in 1955, and taught more than 120,000 individuals to swim during his career. Perry was inducted into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame in 1981. Perry's daughter, Delee Perry, took over Perry's swim school following her father's death in 1987. It was still in operation as of 2020.


Weeki Wachee Mermaid Florence McNabb drinking a cola from a glass bottle underwater. 

Along with a group of investors, Newton Perry opened Weeki Wachee Springs to the public in October of 1947, and used his experiences working at Silver Springs and Wakulla Springs to develop the original concepts for its underwater theater and mermaid shows. In the 1940s, Weeki Wachee Springs and the surrounding area were largely undeveloped. As the Ocala native Newt Perry performed water based stunts and helped film movies at the picturesque Wauchula Springs, he saw the potential of Weeki Wachee to become a sucessful tourist attraction based around underwater performance. Perry built a small underwater theater, training women to perform ballet like moves underwater.

The City of Mermaids
1940s: The Beginning of a Legacy