Good morning, Coney Island, how are you? Don’t you know him — he’s your native son!
Folk music star and Coney Island native Arlo Guthrie will join his sister Nora Guthrie in leading the 36th annual Mermaid Parade this June, reigning over the summer celebration as its King Neptune and Queen Mermaid. The son and daughter of folk legend Woodie Guthrie are looking forward to returning to their roots for the beloved summertime celebration, since growing up in the area had such an indelible impact on them, according to the future Queen.
“I love it, because we were born and raised there — I’m a real mermaid, I don’t have to fake it!” Nora Guthrie told this newspaper. “Much of my identity really comes from Coney Island, including my silliness.”
The pair will return to the People’s Playground to lead the June 22 procession, which will occur just blocks from the now-demolished Mermaid Avenue home where the pair grew up with their music sensation father, their mother Marjorie, and their five siblings from 1943 until the early 1950s, according to Nora.
Their sibling’s connection to the avenue the Mermaid Parade is named after makes them a natural fit to be crowned King and Queen, according to the parade’s organizer.
“They are the only King and Queen of the Mermaid Parade to actually grow up on Mermaid Avenue, so I’ve always had them in mind,” said Dick Zigun, the founder of Coney Island USA and the neighborhood’s self-declared “unofficial mayor.”
Arlo, whose 18-minute Vietnam protest song “Alice’s Restaurant” has become a Thanksgiving staple, and Nora, the president of Woody Guthrie Publications, will lead the procession in costume, riding in an antique wicker boardwalk rolling chair — down Surf Avenue from W. 21st Street to the Cyclone roller coaster on W. 10th Street, and then back down the Riegelmann Boardwalk to the parachute jump, Zigun said. After the parade, the siblings will cut a ribbon on Coney Island Beach to symbolically open the ocean for the summer season.
Their father, Woody Guthrie left Coney for California in the early 1950s, but returned to New York City before dying in Queens in 1967 at the age of 55, and his ashes were spread off the shores of Coney Island Beach. During his lifetime, the music man composed more than 2,500 songs, including the classic American anthem “This Land Is Your Land.”
The People’s Playground inspired many of those works, including Guthrie’s poem “Mermaid’s Avenue,” which celebrates the street’s diversity, as well as children’s songs inspired by his close relationship with his kids, including “Riding In My Car,” “Why, Oh Why,” and “Howji Do,” according to neighborhood historian Charlie Denson. The singer also cultivated his appreciation for Jewish faith and culture while living in Coney, writing tunes including “Hanuka Dance” and “Happy Joyous Hanuka,” and penning Yiddish poems with his mother-in-law, poet Aliza Greenblatt, who lived in nearby Sea Gate.
And even after the family moved to nearby Gravesend in 1951 — and later to the distant land of Queens — the youngsters continued to spend most of their time in and near Coney Island, visiting their grandmother’s home and their mother’s dance company in Sheepshead Bay, Nora said. Leading the parade in her hometown will pay tribute to her parents’ enduring positive impact on the world, said Nora.
“I’m so proud of my father and my mother and the work that they did in their lives, and I really feel like us being chosen is just making a bit of a statement, especially in times like this, about what good people do: good people care about other people, march for other people, sing for other people’s rights,” she said.
The city will also formally honor Woody Guthrie in the weeks before the Mermaid Parade, by hosting a co-naming ceremony on the Mermaid Avenue block between W. 35th and W. 36th streets that the Guthries called home, which they will dub “Woody Guthrie Way” after the Council unanimously voted in favor of the tribute last December.