The Coney Island Mermaid Parade

Last Saturday (June 21) was the first day of summer and, as it fell on a Saturday, it was also the date of the annual Mermaid Parade in Coney Island.

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Out of curiosity, I did a little research and found out that the parade is something of a big deal and attracts tens to hundreds of thousands of spectators. After going, I can attest to the validity of that statistic. Coney Island was packed!

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Ivan and I went with our friend, Tammy, whose husband couldn’t attend because of an imminent Step 2 exam (boo tests!).

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The subway station in Coney Island had NYPD officers ushering people through the exits to keep the station from overcrowding (which it was doing, regardless). Once we got out of the station, we crossed the road and walked a few blocks before finding a portion of fence that wasn’t so packed we couldn’t squeeze through a little. And, as luck would have it, a couple people butted up against the barrier decided to relocate, so we were able to push right up to the road.

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Then we waited. And we waited. And we realized that we were ten blocks down from the beginning of the parade and might be waiting for a while. About an hour and a half to two hours later (and a very burnt neck and forearms for me), the parade began to make its way to us.

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The only other parade I’ve witnessed since moving to Brooklyn was the miniature Viking parade that marched down our street. It consisted mostly of hordes of bagpipers. The Mermaid Parade was entirely different.


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Tammy and Richard prepared us for it by saying it was decadent. After redefining the word, I realized it was the perfect description, but at the time I was equating decadent with indulgent, whereas I should have understood it to mean debauched and hedonistic.

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Fun fact: Did you know that, in New York, it is legal for a woman to be shirtless in public? (As I understand it, anywhere a man can legally be shirtless, a woman can, too. Logically, that should be the case in all states, but I don’t know if that’s true.) There was a lot of that going on at the Mermaid Parade.

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There was actually a lot of everything going on at the Mermaid Parade! Yes, there were naked breasts, but there were also costumes in flashy colors, with streamers and pearls; there were sequins and body paint, wigs, masks and stilts; shells were belt buckles, bikini cups, hats, cod pieces and adornments.

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There were children as well as adults participating in the parade and watching.

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Surprisingly, there was very little music. I didn’t see any bands until we were about to leave and we spotted a small marching band with a skilled drum line. Even without the influence of music (though, perhaps not without the influence of anything else), plenty of the parade contestants were dancing down the street.

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Finally, after a couple of hours of admiring the costumes and snapping photo after photo of the steady stream of colorful parade marchers, we decided it was time to escape the sun, heat and crowd, and head back home. The one major problem was that we had crossed the road when we first arrived, meaning that we had to cross the road once more to reenter the subway station.

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Crossing the road meant crossing the barriers and cutting through the parade: something we weren’t sure was possible. But we made our way back to the spot that we had crossed the road in the first place. There, sure enough, the NYPD was allowing crowds to cross the street during intervals in the parade.

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Almost immediately we realized one major issue. The amount of people being allowed to cross at a time was barely a fraction of the swelling mob that was impatiently waiting for its turn to get to the other side.

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The longer we waited in the crowd, the more condensed it became, until we were being pressed in on all sides. Parents started screaming at the crowd to watch out for their children. Someone in the center of the horde started calling to the officers for a medic. Then, on the edges of the group, people started jumping over the barriers.

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At that moment, the officers opened the gates and we flooded forward. Ivan and I held onto each other, but we’d lost Tammy once the mob started surging forward. Luckily, it thinned considerably once we reached the other side of the road and we all reunited for our trip home.

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The turnstiles were deactivated and the emergency doors were open in the subway station, allowing everyone free access to the trains and minimalizing the chance of another bottleneck effect like we’d just experienced.

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I’m happy to say that we were able to jump right on a train and get home without issue.

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