Weeki Wachee Springs
Weeki Wachee Springs is a historic roadside attraction that is located in Hernando County, Florida. Best known for its underwater theater and live mermaid performances, Weeki Wachee first opened to tourists in 1947. The attraction reached great popularity in the 1960s and 1970s under the ownership of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). Today, Weeki Wachee is a Florida State Park that continues to feature underwater mermaid performances 365 days a year.
Weeki Wachee’s underwater theater and performing mermaids were the brainchild of Newton Perry, an accomplished swimmer and underwater performer who had previously worked at two other Florida attractions: Silver Springs and Wakulla Springs. Perry installed a series of air hoses and airlocks at the bottom of the spring, allowing mermaids to stay underwater for long periods of time during performances.
Weeki Wachee mermaid holding an air hose and standing next to an airlock (still in use, today), 1950s. (State Archives of Florida/Lagerberg)
Perry’s vast experience working with Hollywood directors on underwater film sequences at Silver Springs and Wakulla Springs, including the Tarzan franchise, drew future TV and film projects to Weeki Wachee. The 1948 film Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid, and a host of TV shows and film shorts were filmed beneath the surface of the spring in the following decades.
Newt Perry coaches actress Ann Blyth while filming underwater sequences of Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid at Weeki Wachee Springs, 1948. (State Archives of Florida)
Weeki Wachee Springs is also significant for the architecture of its underwater theater, constructed in 1960. Submerged beneath the surface of the spring and topped with a distinctive clamshell roof, the theater was designed by Robert E. Collins, a prolific Florida architect who designed at least fifteen other theaters, including three National Register-listed theaters in the Miami Beach Architectural District.
Interior view of Weeki Wachee's underwater theater, 1970. (State Archives of Florida)
The park also contains a significant archaeological site: the Weeki Wachee mound. Discovered in 1969 while a worker was clearing land with a tractor, the Native American burial mound dates to the Safety Harbor period (A.D. 1300-1725), referring to indigenous people who lived in west Florida at the time of European contact in the early sixteenth century.
Weeki Wachee Springs became a Florida State Park in 2008 and now welcomes visitors 365 days a year. A new generation of mermaids perform shows daily in the underwater theater. For more information on the history of Weeki Wachee Springs and how to plan your visit, go to weekiwachee.com.