June 24, 2019

History alumna Rebecca Schwandt ’18 discovered her passion through preserving the history of Weeki Wachee Springs. Now a state park, Weeki Wachee opened in 1947 as a roadside attraction in Hernando County, FL, presenting women wearing fish tails and other fanciful outfits in underwater acrobatics.

Recently, The Florida Humanities Council awarded a Community Project Grant to Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs, a Florida citizens support organization whose focus is the preservation of the park. The grant supports an oral history project to further preserve and present the stories of the “mermaids” integral in the spring’s iconic history. The project will also involve a history harvest, which encourages the public and former mermaids to bring any items of significance in order to be preserved through digitization. In partnership with the University of Central Florida’s RICHES Program, which will host the history harvest and provide the scanning and recording equipment, the collection will be hosted online so wider audiences can participate in Weeki Wachee’s history.

The grant supports the oral history efforts of Schwandt as well as public promotion of the collection. She is actively working to set a date for the history harvest and scheduling oral history interviews with former mermaids. As a history graduate student, Schwandt created a digital exhibit for Weeki Wachee Springs and interned at the site’s historical archive. Under the supervision of Dr. Scot French, Schwandt also focused her thesis project on the topic.

The Weeki Wachee oral history collection is one of eight Community Project Grants totaling nearly $40,000 recently awarded by the Florida Humanities Council to nonprofits across the state. The projects represent a wide array of interests from the Florida Panhandle to the Florida Keys. To view a complete list, visit floridahumanities.org/what-we-do/grants/funded-grants/.