Thursday, March 24, 2022



Ran into these kitchen towels while shopping at The Attic at East Beach today and they got me to thinking. I didn’t know I there were opportunities available to actually be a mermaid, but I do live in The Mermaid City (Norfolk, VA—more on that in a bit) and it seems only fitting that should be one. So yeah, I am kinda pissed that I'm not.

As always, everything one needs to know can be found on the Internet, so I did a little research on the topic. 

The term “mermaid” literally translates to Sea-lady (Old-English “mere” meaning sea, and maid—as you may remember from The Twelve Days of Christmas—is a young lady). These mystical half-women/half-fish creatures were often spotted when “Sailing, sailing, o’er the bounding main.” Going back thousands of years, they’ve been incorporated into folklore throughout the world. Christopher Columbus himself reported seeing them when he explored the Caribbean late in the 1400s. (It’s possible he confused a manatee with a mermaid…lord only knows what those sailors drank in those days.) Reports of mermaid sightings continue into the 21st century. (Again, what are those sailors drinking? They need to share!)

You may have also heard mermaids referred to as “Sirens of the Sea”, a term not meant to be endearing. According to legend, these magnificent sea maidens would sing to men on ships or shores nearby, practically hypnotizing them with their beauty and song. Those affected would rush out to sea only to be either drowned, eaten, or otherwise sent to their doom. Then along came Arial in the Disney version of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, and suddenly the sea nymph’s image became all innocence and whimsy, with a healthy splash of romance.

There is much discussion as to the symbolic nature of a mermaid. Could she represent the changing nature of the sea? Possibly. As the oceans change, so changes a mermaid from water-loving fish to land-loving woman. In each culture, from Greek and Roman mythology to eastern European and African lore, the mermaid symbolizes different things. This short (but getting longer) blog post hasn’t the room to educate you on all that. I found an interesting article on mermaid history HERE

But, how and why are mermaids connected to Norfolk, VA? Would you believe me if I told you it all started with cows?

A prominent local attorney and his wife visited “Cows on Parade” in Chicago. It turned out to be an effective marketing campaign that brought money to the Windy City.

Norfolk, a Navy town (accompanied by its associated sailor-ish foibles), was in need of an image lift. The attorney’s wife suggested they bring the idea to Norfolk. Not cows, per se, but something more fitting of a city with a seafaring history, like…a mermaid! The attorney embraced the idea and in short order brought in more than 100 life-sized statues. Designed by artist Chris Alexander, each one was decorated in a unique theme expressing their distinctive personalities. The mermaids were placed at various locations around the city, and people would map out a mermaid trail in hopes of viewing them all. Unlike the brief visit of Cows to Chicago, the mermaid icon with long flowing tresses and one arm stretched forward and one trailing behind, became the official symbol of The Mermaid City.

Many of the original mermaids are still hanging around (some looking a little worse for the harsh marine climate), and many more have been added over the years. They now total almost 250 at last count. It’s always fun to spot one in front of a building or along the road.

I do think that deep down I have some mermaid-esque qualities. I am curious, cheerful, and impulsive, like Ariel. I also lean towards the darker, siren-esque side of the mermaid spectrum, luring people to their death (in the literary sense, I mean, in association with my mystery-writing endeavors.) There's only one thing stopping me: I don't have a fish tale, and I cant breath underwater. (Details, details!)

Still kinda pissed, though, about not being a mermaid.


Gina said...

Great writing…plus,I learned something new about mermaids!

Teresa Inge said...

Great post!

Unknown said...

Awesome Sally and ditto Gina....