Its origins probably date back to the summer Mardi Gras which was celebrated in Coney Island from 1903 to 1954.
A source of pride for its residents, it allows New Yorkers to give free expression of themselves by disguising themselves in an eccentric and extravagant manner.
Held every summer and running from the main road of Coney Island and onto its waterfront promenade, the parade of Neptune and the little mermaids, is basically the summer version of Halloween.
At its origins there is no religious, ethnic or ideal aspect but it was rather just created by artists for the sole purpose of having fun.
It is a day to disguise, have fun, find your own artistic expression, offering yourself to the public, it is one of the declared purposes of the parade. Very likely some of the participants are trapped in sober and gray work clothes for the whole week, gulping down competitiveness and coffee on the way to the office in a constant and exhausting race towards success and this is an outlet for self-expression.
Anything goes during this Parade: mother-of-pearl scales, golden tails, shells, wigs, body painting and no limits to the imagination and children can participate as well, of course.
It seems a Pride Parade and for some is but the purpose is to involve families and anyone really.
During this time, Coney Island comes alive and relives the glories of the early '900 when the construction of the first large funfair made it the holiday and entertainment destination for New Yorkers.
The great depression and a fire in 1932 devastated it, bringing it to the degradation of which it still suffers today.
Street artists have created, on commission and on time for the parade, a series of murals that color and interpret one of the most significant places in New York.
Coney was the site of the first urban experiments that then designed Manhattan, a lively film scene that became cult and starred in many successful songs, from Lou Reed to Lana del Rey.
Coney Island is show and art and that’s why every year on Surf Avenue in Coney Island thousands of participants parade dressed in marine animals of all kinds giving free rein to their imagination and opening the parade are always Neptune and the Queen of the seas.
The carts parade on Surf Avenue to West 10th street and then turn onto the seafront promenade and back up to West 17th Street.
The best place to enjoy the whole folklore is on Surf Avenue because the carts and the vintage cars carrying the masked participants are not allowed access to the promenade along the sea.
Usually the parade ends in the afternoon and people stay in costume for the rest of the day before going to the Mermaid Parade Ball, which is normally held on the terrace of Kitchen 21, a local restaurant. The party starts at dusk and continues until late with live music, burlesque shows and DJ sets and, since we are in the US, it is open to people aged 21 or older because alcohol is served.
The Mermaid Parade is an American celebration of ancient mythology by the seaside and is more than just a joyful romp down Mermaid Avenue: it’s a cultural institution. Unfortunately, I have read that regulations and restrictions have sharply increased the cost of the event in the past few years and hurricane Sandy brought havoc on the Coney Island community destroying the historical museum and performance space. The organizers now rely on the income from popular side-show and gift shops to pay for the Mermaid Parade.