The Real Mermaids of San Marcos, Texas

Ben Marks say: "When Collectors Weekly writer and producer Hunter Oatman-Stanford was growing up in Austin, Texas, one of his favorite places to go as a kid was Aquarena Springs in nearby San Marcos. Though the attraction boasted an alligator pit, Ralph the Swimming Pig (famous, of course, for his 'swine dive'), and an aerial gondola ride, the biggest lure was the mermaid show, in which swimmers would perform dance moves and tricks, like eating or drinking underwater, while viewers watched through thick glass windows.

"Turns out, Hunter's great-aunt, Sue Cregg, had been an aquamaid, as the performers were called, in the 1960s. So, for his article on Aquarena Springs, Hunter spoke to Cregg, as well as Peggy Sparks, who got her start at the amusement park in the 1950s. Cregg and Sparks explain what it was really like to be a mermaid, from the cold temperatures they endured in the water to the balls of frozen dog food they'd prepare to feed to the fish they swam with as part of the act."

Eventually, Sparks would learn to hold her breath for around three and a half minutes, enough time to swim the entire perimeter of the giant submersible auditorium and stage. But early in her training, Sparks was still uncomfortable staying under for so long, and using an air hose to breathe. “So I borrowed my boss’s belt,” Sparks explains. “I noticed he had an extra one hanging on his wall, and I went to the back of the show area, 15 feet down, and I belted myself to the iron pipes down there, forcing myself to breathe through an air hose. After the third strangling, I caught on. And here I am today telling you about it.”

The Real Mermaids of San Marcos, Texas

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