Thousands of people celebrated in Coney Island on Saturday as they watched the Mermaid Parade, a colorful seaside procession of marching bands, antique cars and revelers dressed as pirates or mythological aquatic creatures.
Many onlookers were drawn to the festivities by the reputation of the event for being showcase of often outlandish, skimpy outfits. Former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz told the crowd while standing on a float in the procession, “If nudity bothers you, go now.”
Friends Jordan Owen, 22, and Kiley Bowen, 23, both originally from Alabama, weren’t particularly concerned about the nudity.
“It’s not normal for people in Alabama for people to be topless. That’s what we’re waiting for,” Owen, who now lives on the Lower East Side, said jokingly.
Bowen added, “It’s just fun to look at everyone.”
This year’s Queen Mermaid and King Neptune — the teenaged daughter and son of Mayor Bill de Blasio — were chaperoned by their parents. The mayor wore a billowing white pirate shirt and carried a sword, while wife Chirlaine McCray had a baby blue wig that matched the color of her shimmery dress.
Daughter Chiara de Blasio, 19, who is known for her outlandish headwear, wore a crown of silvery tips and flowers. Her brother, Dante, 16, looked sufficiently regal as he showed off a bare blue-painted chest.
The parade got its start in 1982 as part of the push to rejuvenate Coney Island after years of neglect. Since then, the festivities have grown but its freakshow spirit remains largely intact. Last year, the organizers were forced to solicit donations after Superstorm Sandy flooded its Brooklyn base of operations.
Teresa Lopez, a lifelong Brooklynite who was dressed up as a self-described “Mardi Gras mermaid,” said she had been coming to the parade since the late 1980s and remembered when the crowd numbered in the hundreds.
“This is only going to get bigger and bigger each year,” she said. “I’m sure there are people here from around the country.”
The after-party at MCU Stadium — home of the Brooklyn Cyclones — will feature four live bands, a laser light show and a bawdy bada-boom burlesque act, added Debi Ryan, the development director of Coney Island USA. The general admission of $35, which helps fund the festivities, also includes “real bathrooms with running water,” — a welcome relief after a day of lining up to use porta-potties.
The weather forecast for Saturday is “mostly sunny,” but the show will go on rain or shine. “It’s always fun, either way,” said Ryan. “They’re mermaids: They’re used to water!”
With Sheila Anne Feeney