The curious emergence of two mermaid museums in the United States

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A curious, almost mystical coincidence occurred earlier this year when two separate mermaid-themed museums debuted almost simultaneously on opposite ends of the United States. First up is the Siren Museum in the city of Berlin, Maryland, which opened on March 27. A few days later, on March 29, the International Mermaid Museum began welcoming visitors outside the coastal city of Aberdeen in Washington state.

So how can we explain this siren call from coast to coast in the span of a week last spring? According to the respective founders of the two museums, Alyssa Maloof and Kim Roberts, they were just as surprised as anyone at the concomitance of their mermaid-centric projects.

“Is this weird?” Roberts exclaimed in a phone conversation with Hyperallergic. “It had to be in line with the things that were meant to be.”

“The mermaids must have crossed the ether,” Maloof agreed in a separate interview with Hyperallergic.

The Mermaid Museum is located near the Atlantic Hotel in downtown Berlin, Maryland (courtesy Alyssa Maloof)

Mermaids from Greek mythology to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale from 1837 The little Mermaid and Disney’s lively, more joyful interpretation of the book in 1989, these aquatic creatures continue to captivate the imaginations of generations. Variations of the myth of the fish-tailed people, first appearing in Mesopotamian art of the ancient Babylonian period, exist in almost all oceanic cultures, from Europe and the Americas to the Near East and Asia. . Their magic endures, as evidenced by the stories behind these two new museums of American mermaids.

The two museums are self-funded, women-led projects of personal significance to their founders. And the two are about nine miles from the ocean.

The Mermaid Museum features dozens of mermaid-related artifacts and exhibits (courtesy Alyssa Maloof)

Maloof, visual artist and photographer, has lived between Philadelphia and Berlin, Md., Since 2018, until she settled permanently in the small seaside town with her 7-year-old child. She rented a studio and prepared for a new chapter in her life and career, but then COVID-19 happened, forcing her to conjure up a new plan.

It was around this time that the second floor of a 1906 building – built by the secret society of the International Order of Odd Fellows, as evidenced by a wall badge – became available. Maloof used his savings to purchase the 2,200 square foot space and began researching and collecting items for the museum.

“I thought of it as a re-feminization of space,” she told Hyperallergic in a phone conversation, explaining that the project was a long-held dream driven by her “love of the feminine and some water”.

A Fijian mermaid, believed to have been found on the shores of the island (courtesy Alyssa Maloof)

Accumulated in thrift stores and websites like eBay, the museum’s collection includes dozens of mermaid-related artifacts, including a Fijian mermaid, a mythical half-ape-half-fish that is said to have been caught off the coast of Fiji. Other exhibits include “mermaid scales” discovered on the nearby Isle of Wigh and a large mermaid fountain in the center of the ground.

The museum also features a chronology of mermaid sightings by sailors and pirates from the first century AD until 2017. It Also offers activities for children, including a treasure hunt and the possibility of dressing up as a mermaid. The The Mermaid Museum’s gift shop sells aquatic accessories made by local artists.

“It’s a great art project,” said Maloof, describing the museum as a “collage” of curiosities.

“It’s a great art project,” Maloof described his museum (courtesy Alyssa Maloof)
One of the many small artifacts in the Mermaid Museum (courtesy Alyssa Maloof)

Thousands of miles away on the other side of the country, the International Mermaid Museum is a non-profit organization created with an educational mission to teach ocean ecology “from the seashore to the seabed” through the mythology of mermaids. According to Roberts, the museum is currently developing a program for schoolchildren and will soon be launching a scholarship program for people who wish to work in the maritime industry. The museum’s board of trustees is made up entirely of local women leaders with an interest in ocean preservation.

Roberts is a local architect, author and entrepreneur who runs several businesses in Aberdeen with her husband Blain, an underwater photographer. The couple own a winery, distillery, and retreat on property on the Washington coast. The cavernous property also includes 15 acres of exhibition gardens open to the public. Roberts, a pioneering boat captain, is also the author of three detective stories set in Maui, where she and her husband once owned the island’s largest dive charter.

The International Mermaid Museum in Aberdeen, Washington (courtesy Kim Roberts)
The museum combines mermaid artifacts with educational material on sea creatures (courtesy Kim Roberts)

Roberts is also a revered West Coast member community of mermaids. In July, she received the 2021 Mermazing Citizen Award from the Portlandia Mermaid Parade and Festival.

“I have always felt like a mermaid,” she said.

Portland, Oregon is home to one of the nation’s largest modern mermaid societies. Other groups are active in Seattle, California, Florida and New York. They are part of a worldwide community of mermaids (or “seas”) of all kinds. who commune to swim together in mermaid costumes and tails. Each participant goes through a “Mersona” (a “mermaid” and “persona” coat rack, used only in the water). They have a vibrant online community and local groups and meetup groups that organize conventions, festivals and competitions. There are also thousands of professional sirens around the world who are hired to perform at parties and special events.

Kim Roberts at the Portlandia Mermaid Parade and Festival, where she received the 2021 Mermazing Citizen Award (courtesy Kim Roberts)

“We can be thought of as weird or weird, but that’s because we’re a creative bunch,” Roberts said.

The idea for a mermaid museum came to Roberts when a friend sent him a shipment of special seashells, one of which was a single “mermaid comb”, also known as murex Venus Comb. “This is when everything clicks,” she said. The museum was supposed to open in March 2020, but due to the COVID-19 lockdown, the official opening has been postponed until March 29 of this year, which marks the annual International Mermaid Day.

A mermaid sculpture outside the International Mermaid Museum (courtesy Kim Roberts)

With a collection offered mainly by friends and members of the dive and fishing community, the 4,000 square foot museum includes 40 individual installations, each containing about a dozen artifacts and dedicated to a different mermaid. Educational materials on the corresponding sea creatures accompany the exhibitions. Highlights include a large-scale sculpture of a mermaid on a rock made by a group of visually impaired artists; a 65-year-old diving helmet that has been salvaged Pearl Harbor ; and a 200-year-old wooden mermaid sculpture believed to have traveled with Napoleon Bonaparte during his conquests of Egypt and Syria. Roberts said she acquired the rare sculpture at an auction in Texas and it was the only paid item in the museum’s collection.

One of 40 exhibits at the International Mermaid Museum (courtesy Kim Roberts)

Another exhibit at the museum, provided by the Seattle Mermaids Group, offers a guide for novice mermaids, including tips on how to choose a tail and awareness information on counterfeits that not only infringe the intellectual property of designers. popular and independent tail. but can also be dangerous in water. Some of the designer-designed mermaid tails are selling for thousands of dollars.

Seattle Mermaids (Photo by Salish Sea Sirens Photography and Mermaid Orla via Facebook)

For Roberts, a 62-year-old cancer survivor, the project represents more than her dedication to the ocean. “It’s a legacy for me and my husband,” she called the museum, adding that her diagnosis made her “consciously think about what I want to leave behind”.

“It’s all about transformation” she stressed, vowing to continue living her life as a mermaid to the fullest at sea and on land.

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