Monday, May 11, 2009

Remembering Aquarama - Vintage Roadside visits with an Aquamaid

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
Vintage Roadside

11 comments:

I'm Julia said...

Love this post. Brings back memories of Aquarena Springs in San Marcos, Tx. :-)

Vintage Roadside said...

I'm Julia - Thank you for the comment! Glad you're enjoying our visit with an Aquamaid.

Aquarena Springs has some wonderful history. We're hoping to do a feature on that one also. Although they did have "Glurpo the Clown" who looks a little scary in the postcards:-)

Dian said...

My name is Dian. I was an original Aquarama mermaid and swam with Janie. I remember not liking to swim with the goldfish and black googley eyed fish in the tank. I really didn't like finding them in my giant clam shell when the lights came on for the show! Fun memories!

Vintage Roadside said...

Dian - Thank you so much for sharing some of your Aquarama history. Those fish with big eyes probably were quite a shock when the lights came on! We're really happy you found our talk with Janie and it brought back some fun memories. If you have any other history you'd like to share we'd love to talk with you.

Jeff & Kelly

Pam said...

I love this post. Wally and Nola Johl were my grandparents and I have not heard a thing about the Aquarama in many years. Thanks for all of these great memories!!!

Dian said...

I so enjoyed knowing and working for your grandparents. Your grandfather was a real business man and your grandmother....well, I think she was a "show girl" in her heart! She had the best ideas for our costumes...so pretty and flashy!!! She was very creative and they made a great team.

I swam the first summer in the show with your dad and went to high school with him, as well. I was Princess of Pun-ja-har-jo when he was the tapped Brave, our senior year....another bit of trivia Marc can fill you in on one day!

I only have wonderful memories of the lake and the time I lived there. What fun! Dian Sevra Hughes

Dian said...

I forgot to tell you....It is not every girl that gets to list being a mermaid on her job resume. When I graduated from college and was interviewing for my first teaching positon....I noted my mermaid experience and it was always good for a fun conversation, on a personal note. I think it actually helped me land my first teaching position.....fifth grade teacher aka mermaid! Cool!!! Dian

Vintage Roadside said...

Pam - We're so glad you found our post! Thanks also for your email today. I'll get you a reply this evening.

We just love the history of Aquarama and so appreciate what your grandparents built. We've also really enjoyed talking with a few of the mermaids and hearing about their time at Aquarama.

Vintage Roadside said...

Dian - We were on a road trip from Portland, OR to Nashville, TN last month and adjusted our route to take a swing through the Lake of the Ozarks area. We stopped to see the old Aquarama building and took photos of the large clam shells (which sadly are the only remaining items at the restaurant).

Pam said...

Dian, thanks for responding. It is so nice to connect with someone who knew my grandmother and grandpa. They were very special to me. Were you the youngest mermaid? The only other one I remember is CLaudia. Marc is my Uncle, although he is only about 7 years older than me. He had a much older brother (my dad). I have one of those little viewer souvenirs with a photo of the Aquarama and the mermaids standing in front. THat place was surely ahead of it's time, especially in such a small town. WIshing you all the best.

Dian said...

I knew Claudia very well. She was a fellow mermaid but,also, my friend through middle and high school. We both graduated from School of the Osage.....as did your uncle (I didn't realize Marc had a brother). I know the picture you speak of with the girls lined up and sitting in front of the Aquarama building. I have that postcard at my beach house! I am in that picture and can still name most of the girls. My parents owned and operated Robin's Resort in Osage Beach.....My parents no longer own the resort but it is still called Robin's and last summer celebrated its 50th anniversary!