Aquarama, located in Osage Beach, Missouri offered visitors to the Lake of the Ozarks a show that not only featured live mermaids, but also included an underwater Beatles act, underwater bull fights, and underwater trapeze acts!
We're thrilled to start the week off by sharing Part One of our interview with Janie, a former Aquarama performer.
Vintage Roadside: When did you first hear about Aquarama?
Janie: In the fall of 1964, a couple named Wally and Nola Johl, having moved to the area from Florida a few years before, began construction on a show building to house the Aquarama. They got the idea from attending Weeki Wachee in Florida. Wally was in the pool building business here, so it was right up his alley.
Vintage Roadside: How old were you at that time?
Janie: I was 15 years old.
Vintage Roadside: How did you land your job at Aquarama?
Janie: Nola approached my mother at church, asking if I might be allowed to try out for the show they were starting in Osage Beach. Since I was pretty athletic then, mom thought I'd enjoy the experience.... and I did!
Vintage Roadside: What were your initial thoughts about working at Aquarama?
Janie: I'd finished my first summer job as a carhop, and the thought of swimming for a living with others my age sounded like great fun. We were all in high school when it started. In retrospect, I think it was a great idea, a little ahead of its time for the Lake of the Ozarks. The Lake was then known mostly for the country music shows in the area and the tourists didn't always "get it".
Vintage Roadside: What were your first days as an Aquarama employee like?
Janie: As the building/pool was still under construction, I met with the Johls and several other potential "aquamaids" at the Johl's home that fall. We started working that day on some floor routines which we hoped to adapt to an underwater show. A former swimmer from Weeki Wachee, Barbara Hodgson, had been hired to be our coach and star of the show that first season.
Vintage Roadside: You mention training at the Johl's house, how long did you train there?
Janie: We practiced in the Johl's living room until early March, when we started water training in an outdoor, unheated pool at a local motel. It was freezing, we wore sweatshirts and thermal underwear, but we were all kids and survived it. It was there that we learned to use our breathing hoses which allowed us to stay underwater for prolonged practices. By early May, the Aquarama pool was completed and we began everyday practices there.
Vintage Roadside: When Aquarama opened to the public what was your role?
Janie: I was one of the original Aquamaids, kind of in the chorus, as Barbara was the star. She left after the first season to return to Florida and the rest of us worked into her routines.
Vintage Roadside: How many employees did Aquarama have that first year?
Janie: If memory serves, I was one of six girls in the cast, plus Miss Hodgson. There were also two teenage boys, including the Johl's son Mark. Over the years, I would guess there were about 20 other cast members.
To be continued.......
We hope you're enjoying reading a bit of the wonderful history behind Aquarama.
If you'd like to read more of the general history we've put together for Aquarama you can visit our Aquarama page here. And, if you've got any memories, photos, postcards, or stories from Aquarama we'd love to hear from you!
Jeff & Kelly