In 1946, Newton Perry, a former U.S. Navy man who trained Navy Frogmen to swim underwater in World War II, scouted out Weeki Wachee as a good site for a new business. At the time, U.S. 19 was a small two-lane road. All the other roads were dirt; there were no gas stations, no groceries, and no movie theaters. More alligators and black bears lived in the area than humans.
Sadly, the spring was full of old rusted refrigerators and abandoned cars. The junk was cleared and Newt experimented with underwater breathing hoses and invented a method of breathing underwater from a free-flowing air hose supplying oxygen from an air compressor, rather than from a tank strapped to the back. With the air hose, humans could give the appearance of thriving twenty feet underwater with no breathing apparatus.
Submerged six feet below the water’s surface, an 18-seat theater was built into the limestone so viewers could look right into the natural beauty of the ancient spring.
Newt scouted out pretty girls and trained them to swim with air hoses and smile at the same time. He taught them to drink Grapette, a non-carbonated beverage, eat bananas underwater and do aquatic ballets. He then put a sign out on U.S. 19 that read: WEEKI WACHEE. And on October 13, 1947, the first show at the Weeki Wachee Springs underwater theater opened. It was the same day that Kukla, Fran and Ollie first aired on that newfangled invention called television, and one day before Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. On that day, the mermaids performed synchronized ballet moves underwater while breathing through the air hoses hidden in the scenery.
However, in those days, cars were few along U.S. 19. When the girls heard a car coming, they ran to the road in their bathing suits to beckon drivers into the parking lot, just like sirens of ancient lore lured sailors to their sides. Then they jumped into the spring to perform.
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