In 1946, Newton Perry and a group of investors made the decision to use Weeki Wachee as the site for their new attraction. Perry had previously been in the U.S. Navy and had experience training Navy Frogmen. This experience would lend itself well to what he decided to use the Weeki Wachee location for. Between 1946 and October of 1947 Newton Perry developed an underwater breathing system that would allow divers to get oxygen from a free-flowing air hose, rather than the typical breathing apparatus strapped to the back.
Perry decided to put his air hose system to good use. He built a theater with a submerged viewing area, so guests could look into the spring. Next, Perry began recruiting young girls to perform in his theater. He trained them to use the hoses, to smile, and to do tricks and perform shows underwater. One of their most famous tricks was the ability to drink a soda underwater. At the time US 19 was a small two lane road, so to drum up business, the mermaids would run out to the road whenever they heard a car coming by, and beckon the passengers in to watch their show.
Over the years, a number of side attractions have been featured as a part of Weeki Wachee Springs. These have included animal attractions, a “Seminole village”, as well as the May Museum of the Tropics. The animal attractions included a “Birds of Prey” show which appears to have features rehabilitated wildlife, as well as a petting zoo. The May Museum of the Tropics featured the May family’s extensive collection of tropical insects and was in place at Weeki Wachee Springs from during the 1950s. Weeki Wachee Springs also welcomed a number of famous guests over the years, including Esther Williams and Elvis. During Elvis’s visit in the early 1960s, the mermaids welcomed him during their performance with several signs.
After its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s Weeki Wachee Springs faced a steady decline. Eventually, in 2008 Weeki Wachee Springs was taken into the state park system of Florida. The state has made efforts to modernize Weeki Wachee and draw in new interest while still maintaining its legacy as an iconic tourist attraction of Florida’s past. Throughout all of this, the iconic mermaids have still remained apart of Weeki Wachee Springs, they hold yearly auditions for those interested.