Tomorrowland’s lagoon always captures the attention of passing guests. The deep blue waters, squawking seagulls, and circling submarines stand out from the overwhelmingly large buildings nearby. When the lagoon opened in 1959, the park also debuted a brand new attraction: the Submarine Voyage. Though the vast majority of this attraction took place underwater, Disney added an element to draw in visitors from the shore: Lagoon Mermaids!
For four summers between 1959 and 1967, mermaids hung out in the lagoon alongside the passing submarines. They mostly lounged on the rocks, though they occasionally dove into the water and swam past exploring submarines. As a result, mermaid cast members had to be strong swimmers, and were trained to stay far enough away from the subs to avoid any accidents.
So where do real live mermaids come from? Weeks before the opening of the Submarine attraction in 1959, hundreds of local girls auditioned for the unique summer jobs at the Disneyland Hotel pool. An ad in the paper specifically requested good swimmers between 5-foot-4 and 5-foot-7 with long hair.
While hundreds or potential mermaids showed off their dolphin kicks and swimming skills, only a few were chosen for the job that ended up paying about $45 per week according to one former mermaid, Susan Hoose.
Hoose and other former mermaids have a few recollections in common: the water in the Submarine Lagoon was absolutely freezing and the only place to warm up was a rock partially sticking out of the water. The other strong memory is that the submarine propellers were very real and very large and had no protective barrier around them.
Former mermaid Suzanne Brewster told the Huffington Post in 2015, “If you got too close, you could feel the suction of the propellers. And that scared some of the girls.”
In keeping with the nautical theme, it seemed that young sailors–dressed in their navy whites– seemed to be particularly drawn to the young mermaids. A former mermaid named Edie told Disney blogger Matt Crandall that sailors would toss quarters rolled inside dollar bills to the girls. Edie also reported that one eager sailor actually dove into the water and swam out to the mermaids until security arrived and plucked him from the lagoon.
Sadly, after the summer of ‘59 the mermaids only appeared for three more summers from 1965 to 1967.