Friday, July 7 wasn’t the first time Vicki Smith had slipped beneath the chilly surface of Weeki Wachee’s waters. Far from it, actually.
The 77-year old has performed countless shows at the well-known state park where visitors can marvel at mermaids. Her first appearance under the water was way back in 1957.
July 7, 1957, to be exact.
“I never, ever dreamed at 17 that I would still be doing the same thing at my age of 77,” said this week.
Now, 60 years to the day after grabbing the air hose and waving to children as an underwater mermaid, the lady with the heart of a child made her way back to where she feels most at home.
“I have been a mermaid at Weeki Wachee for 17 years,” said Stayce McConnell. “It brings out the kid in you.”
Smith twirls and glided through the water as friends and family snapped photos and grinned ear to ear. She is still a frequent swimmer in the spring. She’s volunteered at the Weeki Wachee Springs state park since returning to the area in 2004.
She’s considered a “Legendary Mermaid’, part of a group of past performers. She swims in reunion shows and touts the park whenever she can.
Still, there was something special about being in the water on the 60-year anniversary of her first swim.
“It embraced me,” she recalled while looking out over the spring. “If I never did it again I wanted to go in that day.”
Smith celebrated her 70th birthday by getting a mermaid tattoo on her ankle. You could say it’s always been in her DNA to be part of the underwater world.
“She swims no differently now than some of the stuff that I’ve seen from when she swam back in 1957,” said John Athanason, who has worked at the park for 15 years. “When she’s under the water she literally is 17 again for her.”
She grew up in Hernando County and began her first job as a Weeki Wachee mermaid on June 7, 1957. One month later, she performed her first show.
“For the girls whose first job was being a mermaid, the rest of your jobs the rest of your life are pretty mundane,” she said. “When I graduated from high school you either went to the University of Florida or Florida State, that’s all there was back then, or you got married, or you became a mermaid.”
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park will celebrate 70 years of business this fall.