It was another rained-out early summer weekend, but that didn’t faze the festival-mad folks of Rosendale last Sunday, when they launched yet another soon-to-be-annual community celebration: the Rosendale Mermaid Parade. According to a local with decades of experience estimating crowd size, longtime Rosendale Street Festival organizer Billy Liggan, about 200 people turned out to prance, flounce, wriggle and bop their way up and down Main Street in colorful sea-themed costumes despite the unrelenting drizzle. Umbrellas transformed by streamers into jellyfish props were doing double duty, but the mood was upbeat, propelled by the Mardi Gras-flavored music of the Rosendale Improvement Association Marching Band, including thematically appropriate tunes like “Wade in the Water” and “Down by the Riverside.”
“It’s okay to have rain on a mermaid parade. Mermaids don’t mind water,” declared town supervisor Jeanne Walsh, adding that the groundbreaking for replacement of the Rosendale Pool will take place on Wednesday, July 8, 2 p.m. at the Recreation Center. The Mermaid Parade was dreamed up by Rosendaler Louisa Duffy as a fundraising event for the Pool Fund, and hats were literally being passed at the Rosendale Farmers’ Market at the parade’s end to collect donations. Asked why she had chosen that particular theme for the event, Duffy said, “Rosendale is on the water and our pool was broken. And ‘mermaid’ and ‘parade’ rhyme!”
The parade route began at the storefront of Amy Trompetter’s Redwing Blackbird Theater, led by a giant seahorse/dragon puppet and a troop of marchers carrying brightly painted cardboard cutouts of mermaids with sculpted papier-mâché heads. They crossed Main Street, circled the parking lot behind the Rosendale Theatre where the Farmers’ Market is held every Sunday, then marched east on Main past the post office, took a right on Snyder Avenue, made a U-turn at the Rondout Creek and headed back west again to Willow Kiln Park.
Conspicuously parked at the beginning of the line of march was an elaborately painted van belonging to the Cottekill-based Etsy clothing designer known as Katwise, who brought along a merry band of her elaborately costumed friends who clearly had marched in their share of Coney Island Mermaid Parades. There were male mermaids in shiny drag (including one calling himself Marine Antoinette), at least one regally appointed Neptune/Poseidon and a variety of other denizens of the deep. But since Rosendale doesn’t block off Main Street to automobile traffic for parades, Toni Cardinale, who lives upstairs from the Redwing Blackbird Theater, was being kept very busy stopping cars to let the costumed revelers cross the street. “Hey, I’m crossin’ a sea creatchuh heah!” she shouted in a vocal impression of Dustin Hoffman as Ratso Rizzo punching a taxicab in Midnight Cowboy.
That sea creature turned out to be one of Katwise’s seasoned parade posse, Derek Coffer of Eddyville, dressed as a jellyfish in “a repurposed headdress from another costume” that looked to be assembled from foam pool noodles. Coffer enthusiastically demonstrated his floaty costume’s “fully articulated wings, to help me swim!” Elsewhere, another of Katwise’s group was overheard saying animatedly, “This squid is staring at me, and all of a sudden I’m like, ‘I know this squid!’”
“Be who you are underwater” was the dress-up theme, as expressed by Rosendale-based performance artist Carl Welden, and participants took that notion in many creative directions. Some marchers wore accents as simple as a scale-patterned lamé skirt, a pirate hat or a seashell tucked behind one ear, but other getups had clearly taken considerable imagination and effort to assemble. One man in a mysterious all-black conglomeration of what looked like repurposed tires, truckbed liners and ductwork identified himself as “Phyllis Diller the Freshwater Sea Pickle” (presumably the black sheep of the sea cucumber family). A large family group from New Paltz wearing mermaid skirts, rainbow tutus, cat ears and painted whiskers said, “We’re the Purrmaids, and this is our pet catfish!” as they pointed to the youngest child, wearing a cat mask. Unsurprisingly in Rosendale, some marchers also carried political messages such as “Mermaids for Microgrids” and “Mermatrons against Patriarchy.”
Back at the parking lot as the parade broke up, Farmers’ Market vendors credited the crowd of marchers and spectators for helping make their day successful in spite of the rain. “The beginning of the day was soaking wet,” admitted market co-organizer Kitty Savage. “But it really did pick up.” “We were happy to see all the mermaids turn out,” agreed Annie Courtens of Roxbury Farm of Kinderhook, a certified organic/biodynamic CSA that is having its first season at the market. “Sales were surprisingly good,” reported another newcomer, M. J. Fitzpatrick, who sells cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil bottled by her family in Greece. “The people who came were interested in buying.”
To tie in with the watery theme, the market featured a booth with a display of live freshwater creatures, including a painted turtle, crayfish, tadpoles and baby salamanders. Environmental educator Betty Boomer was on hand to share tidbits of information about aquatic life with passing kids. Some children walked around carrying cardboard fish marionettes that they had made in a crafts workshop at the Creative Coop preceding the parade. And on Saturday, the Rosendale Theatre heralded the Sunday event with a screening of the 1984 rom/com Splash, which starred Daryl Hannah as a mermaid and a young Tom Hanks as the human who falls in love with her.
By the end of the event, about $1,200 had been donated to the Pool Fund, according to Rosendale tax collector Deborah Checchia, and organizers predicted that online donations would continue to mount up afterwards. Main Street merchant and Marching Band drum major Fre Atlast proclaimed the newly inaugurated celebration “very successful” and a “good dry run. Today laid the foundation and it will grow from here.” She added that the Mermaid Brigade, which will put in its next appearance at the Rosendale Street Festival, would fundraise for a different local charitable cause each year.
To donate to the Rosendale Pool Fund, visit the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley website at https://cfhvny.org/give. To join the organizers and get involved in the preparations for future events, visit Rosendale Mermaid Brigade on Facebook.