The Real Mermaids of San Marcos, Texas

Spring Lake, fed by the springs of the San Marcos River in central Texas, once had an “Aquarena,” or submersible theater. Aquarena Springs resort operated for fifty years, beginning in 1949. It's main attraction: mermaids! Hunter Oatman-Stanford remembers the heyday of Aquarena Springs, and interviewed two of the "aquamaids" who performed there, Peggy Sparks in the 1950s, and Sue Cregg, Oatman-Stanford's great-aunt, in the 1960s.   

“Before we sat down on the picnic perches, we fed the fish frozen dog food,” says Cregg. “When we weren’t in a show, part of our job was to make balls of frozen dog food. Our meal for the picnic was celery with the strings stripped out of it so we wouldn’t choke, sprinkled with this gravel-type stuff. We’d sprinkle that from a shaker like it was salt. We also bottled our own Kool-Aid in Coke bottles. In order to drink underwater, you have to blow into the bottle to force the liquid into your mouth. And we had napkins to put in our laps; it was very elegant.” During Cregg’s time, the aquamaids also had to decorate their own swimsuits, sewing on rhinestones and sequins to resemble glittering scales.

“We would do a suspension demonstration showing how we controlled where we were in the water by the amount of air we took in and let out. It was hard to get three aquamaids to be at the same place at the same time, but we did our best. Then the three clowns would come out and swim their part of the show, and go down to the stationary air hoses on the bottom of the river.”

Read all about the aquamaids of Aquarena Springs at Collectors Weekly. Link


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I went there as a kid! The swimming pig was o.k. It wasn't exactly a surprise that a pig could swim. I actually liked the way the mermaids would swim down to the bottom and breathe from an air hose (which in itself I imagine was tricky to get used to), and then lie on the bottom and blow perfect silvery air rings! I would go to my local pool, put on my mask, go down to the deep end, and practice doing it.
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