Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Did you know that mermaids once called the Lake of the Ozarks home?

Beginning in 1964, a group of lovely mermaids entertained tourists at the Lake of the Ozarks. No, these mermaids didn’t live in the actual lake and it's a good thing they didn’t or fishermen would have been fainting in their Jon boats.

These “Aquamaids” lived in a place called Aquarama located on Highway 54 in Osage Beach.

Aquarama was the brainchild of Wally and Nola Johl, who were inspired by the most famous of all mermaid shows, Florida’s very own Weeki Wachee. The underwater themed theater was a simple anodized aluminum building that housed an 85,000 gallon pool/tank.

They even brought in a mermaid from Weeki Wachee to perform and help the other Aquamaids learn how to be a proper mermaid. This Weeki mermaid, Barbara Hodgson can be seen in the postcard below.

Aquarama was a must visit when traveling to the Lake of the Ozarks and according to this brochure the show was crazy fun and full of excitement. C’mon, who would not want to see The Beatles perform underwater or hear a siren song from mermaids?

I’m still wondering what kind of monsters the Aqualads had to fight. There was even an underwater bullfight with the cutest lipstick wearing bull in Missouri.

The show lasted through the decade, eventually changing into The Cabaret Aquarama in 1969. This 1970 ad advertised that they served authentic Chinese cuisine, steak, prime rib and lobster. Glad to see that mermaid wasn't on the menu!

Aquarama gave up the ghost in 1973 and was eventually sold in 1976. The building is unrecognizable today, but it still has a fishy theme. It has been home to the Happy Fisherman restaurant for more than 30 years.

The overgrown fish bowl was also sold and left the lake area probably for another tourist destination. (I noticed that Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach has an 85,000 gallon tank. In 2008 Weeki Wachee mermaids made an appearance and swam in this tank. I wonder when they installed their tank and if it might be the Aquarama tank?)

Unfortunately, Aquarama didn’t produce many souvenirs and the postcards and brochure are the only vintage items that I've found. Thanks to the fine folks at Vintage Roadside, Aquarama can be remembered and celebrated in the form of a snazzy T-shirt.

While you’re ordering your Aquarama shirt be sure to check out Vintage Roadside’s history page about Aquarama. Also, on their blog you can read a swell interview with Janie, a real life Aquamaid. Catch Part 1 here and Part 2 here. Also, don’t forget to view their other retro cool line of roadside T-Shirts!

For more information about Aquarama, be sure to order Dwight Weaver’s book History & Geography of Lake of the Ozarks Volume Two. Dwight’s book has three pages devoted to Aquarama. You can visit Dwight's website to see his other Lake history books for sale.


Vintage Roadside said...

Great post Mr. Mayor! Those postcards are amazing to see. I believe that is Mark Johl playing the role of matador in the bull fight postcard.

The Viewliner Limited said...

Absolutely wonderful post. A true slice of Americana!

Roadsidepictures said...

Enjoyed the post, Neato!

Mr. Karswell said...

This is an amazing bit of Ozark info... I have memories of LotO as early as '72 and totally don't remember any mermaids!

Don'tcha think the waitresses at The Happy Fisherman should dress up like mermaids still though?

Keith said...

I have a few postcards from Aquarama but didn't know very much about it. Thanks for this great article!

Julianna Schroeder said...

OMG, OMG, I just KNEW there was something neato-cool about the Happy Fisherman, I just KNEW it!

I recently reviewed the restaurant, which is a trip in itself, but apparently not nearly the trip that it used to be. Mermaids!

Here: http://opulentopossum.blogspot.com/2009/03/happy-fisherman.html

Crap, now I wish I had a time machine. Thank you for this informative post.

The lake of the Ozarks said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Wow..........I used to play in a band called the "Crossroads" the summer of 1972. Owner was Wilber Whitehead. We were 18 years old....just out of high school.

Anonymous said...

my sister was actually one of the mermaids at Aquarama.....thats her on the group picture on the right...
She has many memories of that wonderful place....also remembers when the car ran off the road at Gran Glaze bridge with some of the employees that worked there...The girl that survived credited her life to holding her breath from the show.

I remember as a child staying at the golden door motel next to there....great memories!!

daveb335 said...

I am so glad you posted this story. I always told people that there was a resturant in Lake Of Ozarks with mermaids and everyone thought I was nuts. We would go camping at the Lake every year. One year my mom made us bring a suit and tie. I thought she was crazy but she wanted to go to the Aquarama. I remember seeing the mermaids and freaking out wondering how they were breathing. Thanks for the story.

Cathy said...

Back in 1972-3 I played in a band called "Baysinger's Windsome" and we played The Cabaret Aquarama. This October we are going back to the Lake of the Ozarks for a band reunion. We had a great time at this club! We were a 4 piece-three girls and one guy. Great to know the history.