Return of the Mermaids to Transform Downtown into Underwater Metropolis
August 13, 2014
by James Hudson
This Saturday, August 16th, the desert metropolis of Downtown Tucson will transform into a fantasy wonderland under the sea as The Return of the Mermaids celebration bridges the communities of Fourth Avenue and Downtown with a trio of mermaid-themed events appealing to all ages.
The Return of the Mermaids celebration takes a bit of inspiration from two other very popular annual Tucson traditions—the All Souls Procession and the Zombie Walk—but adds a brighter, more August weather-friendly spin. A children-focused portion of the event kicks off at Haggerty Park on Fourth Avenue and sets the stage for the mermaid procession up the Avenue and back down to the Return of the Mermaids finale at The Beach in the MLK lot on 5th Avenue. The party on The Beach will feature DJs, a fashion show, comedy, live entertainment, drinks, food trucks and the ultimate Coronation of King Neptune and Goddess Salacia, the Goddess of the Sea.
The Return of the Mermaids event is the brainchild of local artist/activist and Dinnerware Artspace Director David Aguirre, who came up with the idea when he heard about The Beach installation in the MLK lot on 5th Avenue between Toole Avenue and Congress Street, just west of Hotel Congress and behind One North Fifth Apartments. The Beach features a sand volleyball court and is surrounded by an astro-turfed field set up for badminton, ping pong, and dancing in front of an elevated live music stage. Aguirre saw an opportunity to fully take advantage of the small window of time this space will be available, as it is to come down on Tuesday, September 2nd.
Aguirre took the mechanics and process behind the of the annual Zombie Walk and the All Souls Procession and gave them a summertime spin. “I figured, it’s hot in August, but Tucsonans want to have fun, so let’s do something similar, but with less clothing.” Though Aguirre was initially inspired and borrowed his original Return of the Mermaids event moniker from the world-famous Mermaid Parade in Coney Island, New York, Aguirre put a unique spin on the event, naming it with a bit of inspiration from a Star Wars sequel.
Along with Aguirre, Silver Sea Jewelry owner Lizzie Mead is the other force behind The Return of the Mermaids, with her focus on the Fourth Avenue portions of the event. Mead’s Silver Sea Jewelry shop on 330 N. Fourth Avenue has been the destination for all sea-related accessories since 2008, and Silver Sea itself had been Downtown for more than ten of its twenty total years in business.
Enthusiasm is already so high for the event that when a Return of the Mermaids-themed trunk sale at Silver Sea was held last weekend, the shop had to stay open well past regular store hours. Guitar –wielding, coconut-bikini mermaid models could be seen strolling through Downtown and up and down Fourth Avenue on the most recent 2nd Saturdays, handing out Return of the Mermaids flyers while engaging passersby.
Mead says the Fourth Avenue merchants are “super-jazzed” about the event, and in particular Tucson Thrift, where they have had “has lots of people coming in for costumes. Mermaids, jellyfish, yacht captains, lifeguards, and fishermen hoping to catch a mermaid at the event.” Some of the vendors along the sidewalk include Tucson Steampunk Society, TusCon Science Fiction Fantasy Convention and the Tucson Zombie Walk folk, who will be providing materials for those wishing to go as zombiefied mermaids.
One of the main mermaids to be featured in the procession is Tucson’s own Mermaid Odette, who has made sort of a career as Tucson’s only known professional mermaid, based out of Valley of the Moon, a quirky fantasy park of sorts that was originally built by eccentric local spiritualist George Phar Legle, and has remained on 2544 E Allen Rd. since 1932. Though Odette is trained in performing her mermaid routines under water, she’s more than experienced in land-locked events such as Pheonix ComicCon.
While the Return of the Mermaids event organizers don’t expect all to be as committed to their costumes as Mermaid Odette, they encourage all to participate in the procession on Fourth Avenue, which will start at Haggerty Park and loop back down 4th at 6th Street. And you definitely want to stick around for the finale to see what Downtown Tucson fixtures they’ve picked for the King Neptune and Goddess Salacia!
The event schedule for The Return of the Mermaids:
Octopus’s Garden Party at Haggerty Park on 316 N. Fourth Avenue
7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. – A family-friendly party with free live music, Mermaid Odette, faces painters and giveaways.
7:00 p.m. – Local reggae/world-music band Planet Jam. Meet-a-mermaid with Mermaid Odette. Mini Mer-Market opens with community tables from local vendors. Free craft projects, chalk art, kiddie-pools with sandcastles, and assorted games. Free giveaways all night from the 4th Ave Merchants Association
7:30 p.m. – Children’s costume contest.
8:45 p.m. – Fishbowl drawing.
9:00 p.m. – Procession from 4th Avenue to The Beach.
The Beach Party/Finale on 55 N. 5th Avenue
5pm-10pm: Mermaid Market
7pm: Music by DJ Chica.
7:30: Mermaid standup comedian Bridgitte Thum
8pm: Local musician Louise Le Hir
9pm: Vera del Mar and her drag queens.
9:30-11pm: Meet-and-greets and photos with Mermaid Odette and other featured mermaids.
10:00 p.m. – Coronation of both King Neptune and Goddess Salacia, the Goddess of the Sea.
10:30 p.m. – Lauren Malanga water-shower mermaid dance performance.
11: 30 p.m. – The Beach closes, a party will follow across the street at Hotel Congress.