Glittered masses of mermaids and mermen will gather on Brooklyn's shores Saturday for Coney Island's annual Mermaid Parade — the deep-sea display on dry land that is homage to Brooklyn's old-time Mardi Gras Parade and has marked the unofficial start of the summer each year since its start in 1983.
"It was maybe six to seven artists just marching down Surf Avenue," said Coney Island USA development director Tim Pendrell. "Now it's between 250,000 and 500,000 people here every year for the parade."
Joining the estimated 1,600 mermen and maidens are antique cars, marching bands, and this year's addition: giant helium balloons. They’ll all saunter down Surf Avenue at 2 p.m., rounding to the Coney Island Boardwalk.
"Many of the mermaids are scantily dressed or, I should say, undressed," Brooklyn borough historian Ron Schweiger said, "and in many instances are wearing pasties. And the police officers [are] along the sidelines, you know, keeping order. They have big smiles on their faces."
For the first time this year, there will be a separate section for families who want to participate in the parade to prepare without what Pendrell calls "the shenanigans that are normally associated with our registration process and marchers."
"It's the largest arts parade in the country," Pendrell said. "Anybody in the city is allowed to march in it for an extremely small fee. ... The number of people marching in this parade is close to the Macy’s Day Parade, but it's just individuals who come from across the country just to explore artistic self expression, which is both what makes the parade unique and just a logistical nightmare."