Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Vintage Roadside Visits: Aquarama Aquamaid Dian Sevra - Part 3

We hope you've been enjoying our visit with 1964 Aquamaid Dian!

In this third and final piece we'll hear more about her favorite performances, what led to the end of her mermaid career, and an epic road trip...

 Wally Johl, 1964. Photo courtesy of Marc Johl

Vintage Roadside: What were some of your favorite routines?

Dian: I think my favorite group act was the Circus routine. I believe Marc was the ringleader and the girls would swim in sync together forming different lines and doing stunts. I believe there were swings in one part of the Circus act. It was difficult to maintain your balance and regulate the air flow while maintaining your position in the middle of the glass tank. We had to remain together and at the same height, "swing" together and perform tricks together - something easier said than done, but we seemed to pull it off more times than not!

Vintage Roadside: Did you also perform any solo routines?

Dian: I always enjoyed the scenes where we had "free reign" and could just swim, glide, wave, turn, smile and relax as only a true mermaid can. I loved swimming free-form to the music.

Vintage Roadside: Could you see the audience while you were performing?

Dian: It was difficult to see the audience if we weren't wearing our masks. We could sort of see them but they were blurry forms. When we wore the swim masks it was a different story and could make "eye contact" with individual audience members. The masks let us connect to them eyeball to eyeball - from our underwater world out to their "people" world!

Vintage Roadside: Any fun memories of things maybe going not quite as smoothly as hoped for?

Dian: There is one that comes to mind. We would form a "human circle". One girl's neck would be between my ankles and my neck would be between another girl's ankles and so on, I think we would have 6 or 7 of us forming this circle underwater, and yet, wait, there was more - we would then use our arms together and actually spin the circle around and around! All this while remembering to maintain the circle height to the center of the windows and keep in time with the music! Well one time the girl that had her ankles around my neck kicked my air hose out of my mouth! I tried to maintain my position in the circle as long as I could (without an air hose) but finally had to break rank, and the circle (oops), and swim to the top of the tank. Unfortunately when this would happen all the audience could see was a pair of tangling legs kicking and twirling at the top of the glass tank. Not a professional moment - but one necessary to sustain one's life!

Vintage Roadside: We've heard stories of Aquamaids having their hair turn green. Did you also end up with green hair?

Dian: A downside of the mermaid job was definitely the hair issues! For the most part we were blondes that first year (Barbara was a brunette) and we were asked to let our hair grow as it would "wave" more underwater if it was longer. The chemicals needed for the pool were a bit harsh and we spent hours on end underwater, thus creating a green shiny cast to our blonde locks! When our hair dried it was stiff and broke easily - as I mentioned a bit of a downside! You could pretty much spot an Aquarama mermaid on land by the looks of her hair!

Vintage Roadside: Except for the green hair it sounds like the perfect summer job. Unfortunately you had to leave early that first year. What happened?

Dian: I swam in the original show through July that summer but I developed a huge ear infection. The tank was fairly deep, and for the beginning of some of the scenes we needed to swim and rest on the bottom of the tank before the lights and music would start. With an ear infection the pressure from the depth of the tank really hurt. I would try to swim in from the side, or only rest on the bottom for a few seconds but in the end I just couldn't stand the pressure. The doctor told me I would have to stop going underwater for at least 3-4 weeks, thus ending my mermaid career.

Vintage Roadside: So you still had a month of summer vacation left. Did you end up stuck at home the next month?

Dian: A highlight of this misfortune was an unexpected trip! It was the summer that the World's Fair was in New York City and my parents arranged for me and my two younger cousins to fly to New York and meet up with my other cousins that had been touring Europe in a VW bus. We waited for the bus to arrive via ship and attended the fair for a week, then all piled in the bus and drove cross country...Quite an adventure!

Vintage Roadside: Looking back how does it feel to have been one of the Aquamaids?

Dian: At the time it all seemed fairly normal. All of my friends had jobs around the lake - some sold tickets to the country shows, some worked in gift shops, some were guides at the attractions and others pumped gas for the marinas...

Looking back I think maybe part of the attraction was that it was a glamorous job. I felt pride in being asked to swim in the original season. There was a lot of responsibility given to us to pull this whole crazy idea off - remember, for the most part the cast was from Missouri, and had never seen or heard of a mermaid show let alone perform in one! We pretty much went on blind faith that the show could actually happen. Being young helped, what fifteen year old doesn't think they can do anything? Ha!

Vintage Roadside: Before we go we wanted to ask about your memories of the Johl family.

Dian: I have only fond memories of the Johls, like the Johls my family were transplants. Mrs. Johl reminded me in part of my own mother. I always believed she was a "show girl" at heart. She designed all of our costumes to be figure flattering, colorful and flashy - "when in doubt add a sparkle!!" must have been her theme. Mr. Johl was the perfect compliment to the "sparkly" Mrs. Johl. He was daring to build and undertake such an idea - imagine mermaids in Missouri! He had a vision and with the help of his family was able to see it come true. All in all a great team!

Vintage Roadside: Thank you so much Dian for sharing some of your history with us. It's always an honor to talk with an Aquamaid!

Dian: You're welcome!

Jeff & Kelly
Vintage Roadside

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Vintage Roadside Visits: Aquarama Aquamaid Dian Sevra - Part 2

Let's rejoin Dian and the rest of the 1964 Aquarama cast as they complete their initial training for the debut of the Aquarama...

Vintage Roadside: You were lucky enough to have a very special co-worker that first year - former Weeki Wachee performer Barbara Hodgson. Do you remember Barbara?

Dian: Yes, I remember Barbara. She must have been in her early twenties, and with me being 15 she seemed very worldly and glamorous. She had made the trip alone to Missouri to teach and train a group of fledgling mermaids in a few short weeks. At the time, being 15, I neither worried nor thought about anything more than what I would wear and where I would go on the next date, but looking back that was a very large responsibility given to Barbara!

I remember she was so patient explaining all of the plans, the routines, the training, the eating expected and the importance of stretching and excercising to build endurance. I remember we would all sit in the lobby of the Aquarama on a regular basis and stretch together and visit and get to know one another. I'm sure it must have been a lonely time for her and yet she pulled it off! Mission accomplished!

Former Weeki Wachee Mermaid Barbara Hodgson

Vintage Roadside: Before we jump in and talk about the performances we wanted to ask you about the costumes you wore that season. Do you have any memories of the costumes?

Dian: I do remember several. For the most part we wore white two-piece suits and then would put on various skirts, vests, etc. with velcro for fast costume changes! Remember, after a scene we would either swim to the side of the tank behind a partition and change the costume underwater (hooking the costume pieces securely so they could not float away) or we would swim back up the tunnel to the ladder, climb out of the tank to the dressing room, change the costumes very quickly, climb back down the ladder, swim through the tunnel and find our position underwater - Whew!!

The costumes were simple, to convey the idea of the act, but very colorful and sparkly! Much time and thought were put into the creation of the costumes. Mrs. Johl must receive the credit for their beautiful design. They needed to look light and beautiful, yet hold up to being pulled and yanked upon for quick changes. They also had to hold up as they were underwater, then dried, then placed in the water, etc. over and over and over again!

Vintage Roadside: So here we go! Memorial Day Weekend 1964. Do you remember the theme for that first year?

Dian: The show that original year was an underwater tour around the world. You, as an audience member were traveling around the world, and at every port you would dock and scenes of the mermaids in that part of the world would unfold for the audience. I remember a bullfighting scene with a matador and bull, Hawaiian wrap skirts, English Guard's jackets, circus acts from France, etc.

Vintage Roadside: Was there one part you really wanted to perform?

Dian: I always loved the routines with the mermaid tail! That first summer Barbara did that scene the most as it was more difficult than it looked. The tail, of course, was full of water and was sooo heavy! And swimming horizontally, kicking your legs together, maintaining your position in the middle of the glass, waving and smiling was crazy difficult! I just thought it was the ultimate routine though. If you were a real mermaid what could be better?!

Vintage Roadside: Let's talk about the shells. Did you get to pop out of a shell?

Dian: Yes, I maintained residency in many a clam shell! I remember we would climb down a ladder in the dressing room into the darkened tank, hold our breath and swim down a dark tunnel and then out into the main tank and find "our" clam shell. When you were curled up in the lower part of the shell you would grab the strap and pull to lower the shell top then just lay there curled up in the shell patiently waiting for the lights to come on and the music to begin!! Actually with the weight of the water the opening of the clam shell could be difficult as they were heavy. A little trick was to grab your air hose and put it inside the shell as you were raising the "lid" and the force of the air bubbles would assist in the lifting of the shell.

Vintage Roadside: Any other memories of the clam shells?

Dian: They introduced live fish that summer - not sure if they lasted long term? They were the large goldfish that were yellow but also they had icky black ones with bulging eyes. Sometimes you could feel something inside the shell with you and I always hated it when I had to share the interior of my clam shell with a fish friend waiting in the dark for the lights and music to begin!!!

We hope you'll join us for Part 3 of our interview with Dian as she shares more of her favorite routines, what led to her departure from the Aquarama and her thoughts on how it felt to be an original Aquarama Aquamaid.

Jeff & Kelly

Friday, September 17, 2010

Vintage Roadside Visits: Aquarama Aquamaid Dian Sevra - Part 1

One of the most rewarding parts of our years-long Aquarama research has been the opportunity to talk with many of the people involved with this unique attraction once located in Osage Beach, Missouri.

We're thrilled to bring you part one of our interview with Aquamaid Dian Sevra - a member of the original 1964 cast of the Aquarama. After months of training for that first season, Dian's career as a mermaid came to an abrupt halt after two months of performing. In addition to her time as an Aquamaid, Dian also performed in local water ski shows and spent time working at her family's resort at the Lake of the Ozarks. Let's take a trip back to 1964.

Vintage Roadside: How did you first hear about the Aquarama?

Dian: Marc (Marc Johl, son of Aquarama's founders) and I were classmates at The School of the Osage.

Vintage Roadside: So the two of you lived in the same school district?

Dian: Actually no. Although I should have attended school in Camdenton, the high school at that time was not accredited so my parents who wanted me to be able to attend college paid tuition for me to attend The School of the Osage.

Vintage Roadside: How old were you when Aquarama came along?

Dian: I was 15 years old.

Vintage Roadside: Do you remember how you landed the job as an Aquamaid?

Dian: I really don't remember the details. I think it was along the lines of - I knew Marc from school...I could swim...and I was willing!

Vintage Roadside: You also lived fairly close to where the Aquarama building was being constructed didn't you?

Dian: Yes, the Aquarama building and parking lot were on the highway right at the end of our lake road.

Vintage Roadside: Were there any other factors you can remember that led to you becoming an Aquamaid?

Dian: One of the main reasons I swam at the Aquarama that first summer is a bit convoluted.  I had also been asked to ski in the Tex Bemis Water Ski Thrill Show that year, but being 15 I didn't have a driver's license yet. The Ski Show was at Bagnell Dam, which my father thought was too far to drive illegally, however he didn't seem to mind if I drove to the end of our road and turned into the Aquarama parking lot - so I became a mermaid!

Vintage Roadside: Had you been working at your parent's resort (Robin's Resort) before this?

Dian: Yes, and although they had a yard boy and a maid it seemed like I was on the clock 24/7. I wanted to go and earn my own money and this seemed like the ticket for me!

Vintage Roadside: Did you already know the rest of the cast members that summer?

Dian: Marc and I had 56 students in our graduating class which I think was the largest class up to that point. I believe we also had six sets of twins...weird...anyway, I digress...Living at the lake at that time everyone pretty much knew everyone else.

Vintage Roadside: We've heard about the unheated outdoor pool used for training that first season. Do you remember that?

Dian: Oh yes, I think we were a lot crazy!! We would go to school each day and then after school we would all meet at the pool of a motel along the highway in Osage Beach. I believe it was like April and the water was sooo cold! All of us were good swimmers but this type of swimming was all new to everyone.

Vintage Roadside: One of the critical parts of performing at the Aquarama was using the air hose. Do you remember learning to use the hose?

Dian: We had some sort of generator on the pool deck and air hoses running from it to the swimmers in the pool. A huge part of swimming with an air hose is learning how to regulate your breathing, in part by biting down on the hose with your teeth so you can maintain your position underwater. Too much air, you tended to float, too little air and you sank.

Vintage Roadside: It sounds like holding your position for the routines was one of the hardest things to learn. Aside from the temperature did the motel pool pose any other problems in your training?

Dian: In the motel pool we had to "imagine" where the glass for the tank would be. And then we had to learn the routines. I don't believe we could hear the music in the pool at the motel - another problemo!

Vintage Roadside: Was it difficult learning the routines?

Dian: We had to coordinate our moves not only with the music but with our cast mates. Believe me, swimming and being a mermaid was much more difficult than it sounds. It might sound dramatic and glamorous, but in truth it was very controlled, difficult, challenging and took a lot of stamina and strength!

We hope you've enjoyed Part 1 of our visit with Dian! In Part 2 we'll raise the "Curtain of Bubbles" for a look at those very first Aquarama performances.

Jeff & Kelly
Vintage Roadside

Thursday, September 9, 2010

SCA Conference right around the corner!

With the Society for Commercial Archeology 2010 Conference less than a month away, we wanted to remind you that early registration ends September 15th! You can find a handy link to register here.

The conference is being held in beautiful NW Arkansas and here are a few of the many great things offered:
  •  An opening reception at the restored Dickson Street Inn
  • Two bus tours with highlights such as Dinosaur World, Thorncrown Chapel, lunch at the Crescent Hotel, the Sky Vue Cabins and Kopper Kettle Candies.
  • A full day of roadside-themed paper presentations
  • A limited edition SCA 2010 Conference t-shirt designed by SCA member Rick Kilby and produced by Vintage Roadside
  • Closing dinner at the 1902 Powerhouse building

Remember to pack an extra memory card for your camera - we made our first visit to the Arkansas Ozarks last fall and we're still speechless!

Jeff & Kelly
Vintage Roadside

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Tiki Oasis 2010!

It's hard to believe Tiki Oasis 2010 has already come and gone! Tiki Oasis can sometimes feel a bit like Christmas - weeks of prep, an event that flys by and the next thing you know you're standing in your living room with a suitcase in your hand, sunburnt, a bit bleary and wondering how it all ended so quickly.

Some of you may know that we added a new element to our Tiki Oasis experience this year. We presented a symposium we've been working towards for years on The Aquarama - an underwater show once located in Osage Beach, Missouri. We truly enjoyed having the opportunity to share one of our favorite stories and we want to thank all of you that attended. Special thanks to Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid for being our very amazing guest, and also to Marc & Ann for their friendship and generosity. Look for more Aquarama material coming soon!

Photo courtesy of Michael Contos. Visit him on Flickr here.

Another highlight for us was bringing back a vintage cocktail recipe not served or seen in roughly 40 years. The Aquarama Sling. If you were lucky enough to grab one of the 500 gift bags you received one of our recipe cards. For those of you that didn't end up with a card we proudly offer the recipe below. Bottoms Up!

Here's a quick rundown of how our days went:

Thursday - A great dinner with friends at The Red Fox Steak House (very cool place) followed by the opening party at the Bali Hai. The high point of the evening was Marina's performance with The Tikiyaki Orchestra - wow! You'll see bits of the performance in our video below.

Friday - Our Aquarama symposium, grocery shopping (Bathroom Salad anyone?) and a perfect evening watching the show from the balcony of our room.

Saturday - The Vintage Roadside booth was open for business! We introduced three new designs again this year and had a great day. Saturday night favorites included Charles Phoenix, the Lampshades and a mind-blowing performance by Ape.

Sunday - Rolling out the Vintage Roadside booth for another fun day, and a great poolside set by the Martini Kings!

Here's where some of you head for the airport and arrive home a few short hours later. Us? We load up the car and head 1100 miles north. The plane might be faster, but it's almost impossible to convince the pilot to swing back for another look at that big fiberglass statue!

We enjoyed some time with friends along the way home, enjoyed our first lime flavored Crush, didn't enjoy those horrible cheese chips at a mini mart on Sunset Blvd., almost melted from the heat in Stockton, napped in a few rest areas (Hello Weed, CA!) and that brings us to today - already crossing off the days in our calendar until we can all do it again!

Thanks again to everyone that was a part of the weekend - we truly appreciate it!

Jeff & Kelly
Vintage Roadside