Imagine yourself in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland of 1959. This area of the park may truly have felt like a living, breathing glimpse into the future. After all, within a few short minutes, you could take a Rocket to the Moon, tour the House of the Future and take a ride on the Autopia.
1959 also marked the re-opening of Tomorrowland and its latest attraction–the Submarine Voyage. Guests entered the subs through hatches on the top and got to see all sorts of exotic sea life through their own personal porthole while sitting on a tiny fold down seat.
Completing the atmosphere of a deep sea voyage was the captain of the sub giving commands like, “all ahead one third” to the crew over the crackling loudspeaker. Once underway, the submarine seemed to begin its descent into a the North Pole and the bottom of the sea.
But wait! There was one more touch that made those first few years of the Submarine Voyage so unique–real live mermaids that waved to guests from the Lagoon and sometimes even appeared underwater swimming by and waving in their neoprene tail at certain points of the voyage.
This video from 1967 gives you a sense of where you could see the mermaids in action.
Help Wanted: Disneyland Mermaids
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.
A View from the Monorail overlooking the lagoon
A view of the mermaids from the line of the Submarine Voyage attraction.
The neoprene bodysuits were zippered in the back after the cast member slipped it on, then the mermaids were lowered into the water behind the scenes by two other cast members.