Schaefer's mermaid, part II

May 27, 2011

There's a little bit more to that fish tale I gave you the other day.

Karen Blair, a longtime aide whom William Donald Schaefer remembered in his will, recalled how she'd gotten roped into playing a mermaid at the National Aquarium groundbreaking in 1978.

I indicated that the gig came Blair's way because the model hired to play the mermaid showed up with such heavy make-up and done-up hair that she might have made a better siren for The Block than lure for a family-friendly attraction.

All true, except mermaid No. 1 was not a paid model, former Schaefer Chief of Staff Joan Bereska called to tell me just now.

"I didn’t hire a model," she told me. "I had to come up with all these ideas and never got a penny from anybody to implement them."

Bereska had to resort to asking around for a good mermaid.

"There was a young man who had been a driver in a campaign and he owned a dive shop on Harford Road and [she asked], 'Do you know anybody who would be a good mermaid?'"

Bereska said she figured he'd be a good bet "because he was into diving and divers should know about mermaids."

And, in fact, he knew a good mermaid. Or thought he did. "He said, 'Yes, my girlfriend.'"

When the girlfriend turned up not quite looking the part, and not willing to tone down her make-up or take down her hair, Bereska tapped Blair for the role -- nicely.

Despite Bereksa's reputation for being City Hall's "dragon lady," she said she did not "order" the secretary into the mermaid outfit , as I'd written. She asked if she would "please" do it.

The outfit, by the way, was lent to the city by A.T. Jones & Sons, Bereska said. (See "never got a penny" comment, above.) The North Howard Street costumer came through again three years later, when it let Schaefer borrow that striped Victorian swimsuit for his 1981 seal pool plunge.

While I'm revisiting this topic, I'd like to thank Sun library researcher Paul McCardell for putting me onto the mermaid-beneficiary connection. He'd noticed that the fish-tailed gal in that old newspaper photograph had the same name as someone included in Schaefer's will.

McCardell certainly has an eye for detail, and he had a special familiarity with that 1978 photograph. It was shot by his father, Walter M. McCardell, a Sun photographer for 43 years.

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