Islanders find allure, empowerment in the world of mermaids
Mermaids are having a moment.
While the fin-tailed beauties’ intrigue is as ancient as Greek mythology, mermaids are seeing a resurgence of interest in popular culture these days. The commercial nature of mermaiding is trending upward in the age of cosplay and fantasy role-play, but the allure of the mythical creatures appears to arise from a shared and enduring source — love of the sea and the fascinating possibilities of the unknown.
Cynthia Langreder calls herself the “Galveston Mermaid” and appears in full mermaid regalia regularly around town — at parties and parades, at karaoke nights at local hotels, even at wedding ceremonies — celebrating her mermaidness, which she says is spirit-born.
At the Hilton Galveston Island Resort on Seawall Boulevard on a recent Thursday night, Langreder greeted regulars at the early evening karaoke session. She wore contact lenses that turned her brown eyes a sparkly green. Her face and arms were made up with painted scales in pale gold. She wore a handmade crown of shells, collected on Galveston beaches. Her magnificent tail, designed for comfortable walking, featured blue sequins, green netting and a green vinyl fin at the bottom. Up top, she wore a sparkling gold corset.
Her gleaming smile reflected her happiness in the role.
Langreder got into the mermaid lifestyle in about 2010 and has never looked back, she said. A hospice counselor by day, the former Houston resident moved to the island in part to manifest her passion.
“I was always geared to nautical things; the seahorse was my mascot,” Langreder said. “Around 2010, I went to a meditation session and, boom! I saw myself coming out of the water.”
It’s about female empowerment for her, and about accessing her spiritual side, she said.
“I think people who are mermaids are spiritual people,” Langreder said. “Water represents spirit.”
Sometimes, Langreder swims with Houston Merfolk, a group of beings who identify as mermaids. She bonds with her granddaughter through mermaiding, as well, she said. Most often, she uses her mermaid identity to give people a kick out of their ordinary, day-to-day existence, she said.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “When you’re a mermaid, you’re a fantasy creature. People just light up when they see a mermaid.”
Langreder studied mermaid myth and lore and began making sea-inspired jewelry, seashell bouquets, swimmable tails for little girls and other mermaid paraphernalia after her awakening, she said.
An ordained minister, she has conducted weddings on the beach.
“I bring the oceanfront energy a mermaid represents to people who want to marry by the sea,” she said. “Having a mythical sea creature marry you is special.”
Langreder has plenty of company in her chosen passion. Mermaids like her appear regularly around the island, including at The Naked Mermaid shop on Postoffice Street downtown every month during ArtWalk, when the shop’s proprietor, Wydell Dixon, gets a mermaid to stretch out on an elegant sofa in the store and greet customers.
That’s where mermaid craftswoman Irene Burgess first met Dixon, who sells Burgess’ cloth mermaid creations in her shop.
Formerly land-bound in Forth Worth, Burgess owned property on Galveston Island for years before finally moving to Jamaica Beach and a small beach house, following a path to her heart’s desire — the sound of ocean waves and the sight of pelicans soaring above, she said.
“I’m happy, I’m satisfied when I’m near an ocean,” she said. “I’m really interested in anything having to do with the sea, whether it’s something mystical or something we can touch and put our hands on.”
Mermaids free our imaginations, opening us up to possibilities, she said.
About 15 years ago, Burgess made her first mermaid doll, a cloth creature, its face sculpted and textured by thread. That first doll made it into the hands of a Galveston woman and ended up in a yard sale where an elderly man bought it for 50 cents.
“He came into The Naked Mermaid with the doll in his hand and said, ‘She belongs here,’” Burgess said.
Dixon put the doll in a display and one night, during ArtWalk, which lures hundreds of people downtown every six weeks to explore art and galleries, Burgess saw it, recognizing it as one of her own. If Burgess made more, Dixon would sell them in the store, she said.
Since then, Burgess has passed time sewing, sculpting and painting her cloth mermaids.
“I like to use different things for hair, like seaweed, and I use things found on the beach like decorations made of shells,” she said.
Both Burgess and Langreder celebrate the freedom, mystery and feminine energy represented by mermaids.
“We’re able to live in both the spirit world and the physical world,” Langreder said.
“I’m not Earthbound.”