When the call came to help out at the Tacoma Maritime Fest, Jordan Burke didn’t hesitate to dive in. Even if it meant the deep end of the job pool.
“The original mermaid got pregnant and couldn’t be the mermaid anymore, so I decided I would love to help out and read stories to the kids,” Burke said.
An aspiring elementary school teacher, Burke, 26, was an easy choice for Mermaid Storytelling, one of many nautically oriented activities at the 23rd annual celebration of Tacoma’s maritime heritage Sunday on the Thea Foss Waterway.
Fitting the fin didn’t prove that challenging either. She’s been cultivating her inner mermaid since she was a little girl.
“Ariel (the title character from the Disney film “The Little Mermaid”) was pretty high on the princess level for me,” Burke said. “I wanted to be Ariel, and I wanted Prince Eric, too. He’s pretty cute.”
Sitting inside her seashell, Burke captivated youngsters at the Foss Waterway Seaport museum as she read children’s books by Gig Harbor resident Debbie Moore, all based on animals of the sea. “Penelope the Peculiar Purple Porpoise” was one offering. “Carlton the Calamitous Cross-Eyed Crab” was another.
But Burke herself was the main draw.
“I like her fin,” said Lyric Reed, 6.
“I like her sparkly top,” added Schuyler Nazareno, 4.
Naturally, being on dry land does pose one difficulty for a merperson: walking.
“I’m a little wobbly,” Burke said with a smile. “I was actually wheelchaired in here. If I’m out of the water too long, my legs will grow back. That’s the mermaid legend.”
Kids responded enthusiastically, aside the from the occasionally crying baby objecting to a parental photo op.
“They tell me they want to be a mermaid when they grow up and ask me what it’s like,” Burke said. “I tell them it’s amazing; they have to be good swimmers.”
Burke said her mermaid character swims all around the world but that her home address is in Pacific Northwest waters.
So any sailors out there looking for an underwater hookup, better start saving for snorkel gear.
Besides Mermaid Storytelling, a goal this year was to make the weekend festival more interactive, said Luis Lam, one of the organizers.
“We have live music all weekend … a jellyfish knitting corner led by the Sixth Avenue Yarn Bomber,” Lam said. There also was expanded arts initiatives, including toy boat building and a community-created mural on a recycled sail.
“Art is such a huge part of Tacoma’s identity, as is its maritime heritage, so we really wanted to showcase these two aspects of our city’s culture,” Lam said.
Among the boats on display was the Sea Scouts’ M/V Charles N. Curtis and the El Primero, one of the oldest steel yachts in the United States. Five American presidents and notables such as Babe Ruth and William Randolph Hearst have been aboard the yacht built in 1893 in San Francisco.