Sunday, June 25, 2006

Mardi Gras In New York

I have two confessions to make about this story: 1) I've never been to this, despite several invites from 2) Two friends of mine, who have been quasi-Grand Marshals at this parade several times over the years.
Mermaid Parade takes over Coney Island
By Matt Windman

June 23, 2006

Only one of the city's annual parades offers the opportunity to march alongside bare-breasted sea creatures with big wigs and plastic fins, children costumed as Disney characters and drag queens posing as cans of tuna fish.

Coney Island's Mermaid Parade, which takes place Saturday afternoon and is considered to be the largest arts parade in America, is also the neighborhood's biggest economic draw, according to director Dick Zigun, who founded the event in 1983 as part of the nonprofit organization Coney Island USA.

"This is the event that started to turn around the image of Coney Island in the '80s," Zigun said. "We created a holiday to give spirit back to Coney Island, to celebrate American amusement-park culture."
The parade is an homage to the old Mardi Gras parade held on the boardwalk from 1903 through 1954. Yes. You heard that right: New York City had its own Mardi Gras Parade in the winter, with the horn-blowing and the drinking...well, maybe that part's not so hard to believe...and the debaucheries.

Dick Zigun, the founder, is a bit of a character, one of those "Only In New York" stories. He holds an MFA from Yale, and has been spokesman for Coney Island and the Coney Island Amusement Park for nearly 25 years. When he came to New York, he couldn't find an affordable apartment in Manhattan, so he did what millions of starving artists and actors did: he moved to the outer boroughs, specifically Coney Island. There, he decided to give up his dream of producing plays in the rarefied artsy atmosphere of SoHo and concentrated on bringing the arts to Coney Island, an area that had long past seen its heyday as an amusement attraction.

It would not be inaccurate to say that Zigun revived the area almost singlehandedly. While he had help, gobs and gobs of help, most New Yorkers viewed Coney Island as a place where the ever-nebulous "they" went to enjoy themselves, "they" being anything from inner city ghetto kids from Bed-Stuy to local Russian mafia types. This image is fading slowly, and the amusement park is but a shell of what it once was, the island haven for millions of New Yorkers, pre-automobile era. Replacing it is a baseball stadium, a refurbished aqarium, and Dick Dizgun's events.

Hats off, sir, on another great parade!

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