Yay Coney Island Mermaid Parade!

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

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“Yay, kitty cat!”  the little girl in front of us yelled. The woman in the parade stopped and smiled. She was wearing a brown fur costume—perhaps too warm for this sunny June day—and a button nose. Whiskers striped her cheeks.

DSC_0370 cropped small“She’s a friendly sea lion,” another woman said. Of course! The friendly sea lion danced over to the line of kids. “Would you like to pet my flippers?” she asked.

Shyly, the kids did. Then they went back to shouting at the weird, wacky, and wonderful array of costumed creatures before us: “Yay bunny rabbit!” “Yay green lady!” “Yay guy on stilts!”

We were at the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, an annual festival celebrating Coney Island (“America’s Playground”)—and more generally, celebrating Brooklyn, New York City, sunshine and summer, the ocean, gays, straights, recovery from Sandy, families, friends, and fun.

It almost didn’t happen this year. Hurricane Sandy devastated Coney Island, and the not-for-profit that has run the parade since 1983, Coney Island USA, was over $100,000 in the hole. The nonprofit used to get most of the funds to put on the parade from its museum and performance studio, which was demolished by Sandy.

In a last-ditch attempt to keep the parade going, Coney Island USA launched a Kickstarter campaign—which netted over $117,000. Enough to keep the show going on.

DSC_0609 cropped smallAnd enough to generate a wonderful sense of celebration. Coney Island is back, bigger, better, wackier, and wilder than ever. This year’s parade really spotlighted the reinvention of Coney Island from nostalgic landmark to au-courant hotspot—perfectly blending the traditional and the cutting edge. (Exhibit A:  The only float sponsored by a national brand was sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon—the lowbrow canned brew favored by Brooklyn hipsters everywhere. Go figure!)

The kids in front of us had certainly gotten the message. They loved everything about the parade, and weren’t shy about asking the paraders to perform: “Burn some rubber!” they shouted at the vintage cars, glittering in the early-summer sun. (The drivers obligingly did.)

DSC_0620 cropped small“Play your horn!” they shouted at a saxophone-wielding participant. (He did.) And of course, “Over here! Over here!” they shouted at the paraders who tossed beads, candy, and toys at the onlookers.

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And the kids didn’t seem to be too impressed by the eye-boggling array of nipple pasties, codpieces, and jiggling buttocks. Mermaids and their consorts require very little clothing, so creatively embellished nudity is one of the hallmarks of the Mermaid Parade. But it’s not something the kids seemed to care much about, one way or the other.

DSC_0654 cropped smallInstead, they applauded anything and everything, indiscriminately.

“Yay police!” they shouted out at one uniformed NYPD officer, who shot them a puzzled look, then grinned and waved.  Although the parade was well-patrolled, the officers almost seemed unnecessary—I’ve never been in a crowd that large where the overwhelming mood was so cordial and friendly. (The day of the parade is informally called by the NYPD “Coney Island’s Crime-Free Day”.)

Vlad took almost 2000 photos during the two-hour parade. See below for a gallery of the best photos.

DSC_0672 cropped small

DSC_0678 cropped smallAnd when it ended, we made our way onto the packed beach so I could dip a toe into the ocean, then headed back for the subway ride home.

At the gates to the Coney Island–Stillwell Avenue subway stop, we got one last surprise: As we went to add more money to our metro cards, a cop waved us through the open gates next to the turnstile. “Subway’s free today,” he said.

“Yay, police!” indeed.

And YAY Coney Island Mermaid Parade!

(click on any photo to start slideshow)

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Many more of Vlad’s photos are here. Some nice photos by others are here and here.

125 responses to “Yay Coney Island Mermaid Parade!

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your fab photos, I was at the Mermaid Parade quite by chance and I couldn’t see much let alone snap some shots. I am so glad to see yours!

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  2. Looks like everyone had fun.

    BE ENCOURAGED! BE BLESSED!

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  3. wish i’d have known you were there. it was –as usual–a lovely day!!

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  4. Now this looks like fun! Fantastic captures!

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    • Johna Till Johnson

      Thank you! (On behalf of Vlad). I really don’t know how he does it—believe it or not, these photos are minimally processed… they really DO look like that!

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  5. What’s not to like :)

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  6. Ditto tugster/ soonie2/ fotograffer…AWESOME fun and photos!

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  7. chuffed to see the Island’s come back to life in fantastic fashion.
    many thanks for photos! Yeah everyone!

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    • Johna Till Johnson

      Yes, it’s really quite heartening. And the “makeover” of Coney Island seems to have preserved the original spirit while providing a needed upgrade… Thanks for posting!

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  8. Love these! My favorite was the one that said “Mermaids love solar energy, ” and all of them together — wow! Nobody celebrates like New Yorkers!

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    • Johna Till Johnson

      There were lots of other great comments… “Mermaids love whistleblowers”… and a few others. Glad you liked it! And thanks for posting.

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      • My pleasure, I loved the descriptions of the kids yelling “Yay,” everything. I took my kids to a Taiwanese festival and they chased the dragon all the way down the street. We got lots of great pictures because the kids were so excited. I even managed to take a video. Good memories.

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        • Johna Till Johnson

          Oh, those kids were amazing!

          The ringleader was a girl about 10. Initially she annoyed us by sitting on top of the fence (and blocking Vlad’s view). But pretty quickly she figured out that she could cross the fence with impunity, and sit on the parade path with her friends… because who’s going to yell at a little girl on a day like this???

          And she and the others really managed to score the loot, because the paraders thought she was so adorable.

          It worked to our favor in the end, because everyone kept coming over to (the girls in front of) us with smiles, and Vlad got some of his best shots that way….

          Note to aspiring photographers: Pack a kid, they’re useful accessories!

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        • Yeah, my kids usually come in handy! :-)

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  9. everyone’s having fun like crazy.. :) captured moments… :)

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  10. Fabulous! I was up at Croton Point and so missed the shindig, tickled to see LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS of pictures. ‘Specially “Call Him Ishmael”, aka Jersey City Frankie aka really fabulous local plein air painter Frank Hanavan (I’m still SO psyched that I won one of his lurvely tug painting back in March). .

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    • Johna Till Johnson

      This was our first time. Vlad’s wanted to go for years, and as for me.. hey, Coney Island + Mermaids, what’s not to love?!?

      Thanks for passing along Frank Hanavan’s name. It took me quite a while to realize that part of the reason this event is so wonderful is that so many people are serious artists… Coney Island = new bohemia?

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  11. What a fun day! The photos absolutely capture the party feel.

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  12. There seems to be a little bit of everything on display. Thanks for sharing. I didn’t realize Sandy damaged Coney Island. Kickstarter is a great program, glad they were able to pay off their debt.

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    • Johna Till Johnson

      And quite a lot of SOME things on display! :-) Yes, Coney Island was hit pretty hard–it took the brunt of the storm surge. The Kickstarter campaign contains some video of what it looked like the day after…

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  13. Wonderful captured all these umbrellas and brass Instruments… :-) :-) ;-)

    Looks like amazing atmosphere… :-) :-)

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  14. What a day! I can see how it would be easy to take 2000 pix- fabulous stuff.

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    • Johna Till Johnson

      Yes, target-rich environment, as they say. My favorites are just the ordinary people, like the two men dancing (you can’t tell from the photos, but they were REALLY good!)

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  15. Fabulous photos Vlad! This article really captures the spirit of the day. I’m sharing this on my Facebook page.

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  16. Wild and wacky! Yes kids seem to love this stuff. In Oregon we have a 3-day fair started back in the 60s and frequented by Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters. It’s called Country Fair and it includes a lot of parades like this. The kids are all busy in a beautiful meadow creating the costumes and art. Even though the whole thing has a strong hippy feel, there’s no alcohol allowed inside (pot smoking is tolerated unless done too openly), and the kids have the best kind of time. Gotta get back there, it’s coming up.

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    • Johna Till Johnson

      Wow, it’s very cool that Kesey’s legacy lives on! And yes, that’s *exactly* the vibe, or so I would imagine (I missed the original Kesey era but read Tom Wolfe’s wonderful book about it).

      Please do go—and post photos!

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  17. oh my it does look interesting :)

    greetings from indonesia

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    • Johna Till Johnson

      Thanks mobibrad! And love your blog. Please keep showing the activist side of you—it’s refreshing to hear from someone with such an optimistic view.

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  18. Call me Ishmael = call me brilliant!

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    • Johna Till Johnson

      Thanks Jean! Or Alex. :-) Need to catch up offline at some point about paddling plans out to the sound…

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  19. Wow, this must have been an extraordinary experience, Johna! And Vlad, what a great set of photos – so many exceptional portraits. No wonder you took 2K pics; it must have been impossible to stop shooting with such colorful characters! Thanks to both of you for sharing another unique day in NYC.

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  20. Those were incredible! I appreciated the comment that the kids didn’t seem to care about the bare skin and breasts. It bothered me to see it flaunted so publicly, but it seems everyone was pretty low key about it.

    Thanks for putting together the gallery at the end – what a lot of work! Very enjoyable for us, your readers.

    Nancy

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    • Johna Till Johnson

      Thanks, Nancy! Yes, we wondered if people would be bothered—the odd thing is that at the event itself, you really didn’t notice it much (much more so in the photos). The impression was pretty much just color and motion–glitter and color and dancing. Thanks for reading!

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  21. Allyson Mellone

    Such enchanting story telling Johna! And the pictures are wonderfully festive portraits! I really enjoyed viewing them. Through your blog I am exposed to happenings going on here. Thanks for sharing :)

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  22. The kids wouldn’t be bothered by it; I mean to them it’s just a body. I wish more people had that kind of approach to the human form. The only time the kids are going to start feeling ashamed is when others—whether it’s society, friends, or family—start telling them they should feel that way. Otherwise, it’s just a body and those people are just celebrating—as I said, I wish more people thought that way; if they did, I think the world would be a much happier, healthier place.

    Very nice pictures :)

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    • That’s presumably how most people at the parade thought about it (the announcer announced at the start that “if you are offended by these things, you probably want to be elsewhere today”), and it seemed to work :-)

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  23. Catherine Gibson

    Am so glad to have experienced fascinating experience through your descriptive words and Vlad’s wonderful pictures! Almost feel like I was there!

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  24. OMG that is QUITE the post Vladimir!!! Thanks for sharing – you made my day with this one :-)

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  25. Now that’s a parade!

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  26. OMG — This beats Savannah on St. Patrick’s Day! (And that’s going some.)
    The mermen’s crown jewels, the unicorn (I believe! I believe!), NYPD’s finest — only a little bewitched, bothered, and bewildered —
    Vlad’s photos were over the top. Well, how could they not be? And whichever’s captions — great.
    (Watching this while the thunder rumbles, the rain pours, the sun shines, the rain pours again — we’ve got the whole bloody waterworks here as well. Thanks for a gala distraction.)

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    • Johna Till Johnson

      Thanks, Judith!! And thanks for noticing the captions. Pretty funny: Vlad had culled his 2,000 photos down to a couple hundred or so, and texted me, “Can you please come up with some captions?”

      I protested and complained, “I can’t just write captions without a narrative! What’s the context, what’s the story?” But he insisted, and I found that I CAN… (he added and edited a few, but a surprising number of the originals made it).

      Glad we could make your rainy/sunny/rainy day a bit more surreal….

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  27. The colour!! It spells FUN!! Great post… great to see the community spirit saving the day and parade! You New Yorkers sure know how to do things in a big way!

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    • It started off small in the 1980s—at the first parade, there were reportedly more paraders than spectators—but it has since grown to become one of the biggest parades in NYC. I think this year they were expecting more than 750,000 spectators (that was last year’s number). Of course, there are even larger parades in NYC, such as the Puerto Rican Day Parade, with several million spectators.

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  28. I enjoyed these pics of mermaid parade. Thanks for posting them.

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  29. Saw shots about the parade made by a friend living in NYC. It’s amazing all the variety in costumes, and how no two shots are alike… Looks like a great parade to go see :)

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  30. Great photos! I was just there for the parade for the first time (visiting my brother in Brooklyn), and it was awesome! I actually have a photo of it on my photography blog, LifePieces!

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  31. I honor thee with the award of patience and super creative. WOW … this is one informative and well documented photographic article. Is there a newspaper or magazine that would like this? YES … I think so.
    Well done … love it.
    Isadora

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  32. I saw the signs for the upcoming event but knew I wouldn’t be there to see it. No worries. Got the flavor and feeling by looking at all your photos. Very cool scene. What a wild time. So colorful.

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  33. There just have been huge energy flowing on Coney Island that day.
    Thanks for checking in on my Golden hour.

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  34. Great pictures and a fun story!

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  35. SO colorful! Really looks like everyone were enjoying themselves…(including you Vladimir…taking these wonderful photos…a feast for the eyes)

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  36. Looks pretty wild. Nice photos.

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  38. Such a fun day out – love the NYC spirit!

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  40. Oh these shots are fabulous, and Johna, your writing made me howl with laughter, “would you like to pet my flippers?”, ha ha, so much fun. :)

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  42. Thanks again for another remarkable distraction. Great photos!! Great captions! You take us along with you. We enjoy it.

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  44. very colourful pictures, looks a good parade

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  45. una grande galleria di immagini, una vera gioia di colori per gli occhi, e grande simpatia
    grazie Ven

    a large Gallery of images, a real joy of colors for the eyes, and great sympathy

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  48. Tits. Gotta love ’em!

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