Last year, when the pandemic forced people to retreat to their homes, Alyssa Maloof found her photo studio empty.
So Maloof, who is deeply interested in fine art, decided to turn his studio into a museum celebrating mermaids.
In the heart of downtown Berlin, Maryland, just 9 miles from the ocean, its museum reflects the image of the coastal city as home to “all things mermaid.”
Although Berlin itself is not a beach town and is best known as a stopping point for tourists to Ocean City, its proximity to the ocean inspired Maloof to create a full-fledged mermaid exhibit.
Departing from the conventional idea of ”The Little Mermaid”, visitors have the chance to see the mythical sea creature in a unique way. The museum presents the history of mermaids through their portrayal in different cultures, as well as “ironic fun stuff,” according to Maloof.
Fulfilling what seems to be the desire of most children, the museum allows young visitors to play disguise in a pirate box, transforming them into little mermaids and newt men. It’s a fun history lesson combined with a fictional recreation, according to Maloof. Her young son adores mermaid tails and is a “full merboy,” she said.
While mermaids seem to be a childhood fascination, Maloof has also found them to appeal to adults.
“People were thanking me for the idea of creating a mermaid museum because it was so much fun,” Maloof said. “They are thrilled with the idea of a fantastic museum.”
Sirens are inextricably an elite because they are all devoted to mystery, Salisbury Poet Laureate Nancy Mitchell said on the “Delmarva Life” TV show of the museum.
The myth of the mermaid runs deep in human consciousness and has survived through the ages because of this mystery, hope and impossibility that surrounds it, she said.
Maloof says there are deep connections between Berlin and the fictional sea beings. It features artifacts found like “mermaid scales,” discovered on the Isle of Wight near Berlin, she said.
Referring to the “Mermaid of Fiji,” a taxidermy mermaid that people once thought to be real and which was once on display by PT Barnum, Maloof said the artwork is happier in the museum, being closer of the sea.
Mermaid culture runs throughout Ocean City, where hotels hire professionals who wear mermaid costumes to play with the kids by the pool.
The city also hosted a Renaissance Ocean Festival this summer.
Being a professional mermaid requires a lifeguard certificate, learning, and aquatic skills such as scuba diving and being able to hold your breath, according to Tasha Haight, who was Miss Mermaid Delaware 2019 and 2020. She works with children and is also part of the Festival of the Ocean Renaissance.
“Mermaids bring magic, and they provide a way to connect us to the ocean, bay, rivers and other waterways,” Haight said. “A lot of people tend to be afraid of water, and the ocean and mermaids are a way to help them overcome this fear.”
Maloof plans to organize a mermaid festival in Berlin with living mermaids. Everyone feels drawn to the ocean as it rejuvenates and refreshes you, and once you’re here with the family, it creates the magic of a vacation spot, she said.
Affinity with the ocean, the salty breeze, and the sound of crashing waves on the beach draw hundreds of tourists to Ocean City and other nearby coastal towns, and the mermaids help create a mystical experience.