For our May / June online issue I returned one last time to our old printed newsletters, exhuming the following treatise on merfolk from the late Spring of 1990.

Shortly after, brother Dan officially took over as webmaster, and we hit upon the plan of finally archiving all these columns.

Which of course means that the following is the Last of the Reprints!

Well, that's not quite true - I did use an extremely truncated version of the "Gold Rush" column to grace the pages of the May / June printed newsletter.

At any rate, it is only July 2003 as I write this, the final introduction to the final archived-after-the-fact folklore column! Henceforth, anything I have to tell you will be told within the context of the columns themselves.

Here's to the future . . .

Ahhh, May is here, Spring is in high gear, and your friendly folklore column is back again ­ I had a great column lined up, then realized that if I dared to do yet another piece on the Renaissance Faire I would probably be boiled in oil.

In all seriousness, and in indirect pursuit of our eventual goal to return our wealth of columns past to this venerable website, I have uncovered the following Spring-appropriate item, which originally saw print 13 years ago, a time when Sheryl was Shirley and brother John was single ­ although both states of affairs would change by the time this column saw print!

And I'll see you in June . . .

Folklore of the Sea: Mermaids


Mermaids (and mermen, for that matter) are, of course, creatures that are half human and half fish (upper and lower halves, respectively). They live in undersea kingdoms, surrounded by wealth, and sometimes (though not so often as they used to) visit the surface world to fall in love, or sink the occasional ship. There has been something of an outcry against the latter characteristic, and in fairness there are many tales of merfolk who have actually saved ships from being lost. Who knows?

Where do the merpeople come from? The Irish say they were originally ancient women who lived in Ireland in the Pagan days, and were banished from land by Saint Patrick. Some say they are descended from the Pharoah's children who were drowned in the Red Sea. Still others say they are actually descended from Aphrodite. A more "scientific" theory (relatively speaking) purports that they result from the union of human and dolphin.

But perhaps they simply are. Perhaps they simply evolved as we did, only down there rather than up here. There are reportedly many descendents from unions of humans and mermaids living in Machaire, Ireland, although typically such offspring opt for life in the sea. Wouldn't you?

Many people have reported actually seeing mermaids. Henry Hudson himself, while exploring near Nova Zembla in his endless search for the Northwest Passage, reported seeing one. Henry would shortly, of course, run afoul of his crew, and end his days set adrift in a small boat in the cold, uncharted waters of the bay that bears his name. It is said that those who marooned him thus were later cursed, and compelled to haunt the mountains overlooking the Hudson River. It is said that the thunder so often heard over the region is actually the sound of those unfortunates playing Nine Pins (an early Dutch antecedent of Bowling). (More information on this can be found, of course, in Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle".)

Mermaids did tend to jinx those who saw them, although considering the rough-hewn and frequently piratical nature of those who then plowed the Seven Seas, it was probably deserved.

Mermaids were said to be so beautiful that sailors would dive overboard after them. To drown in pursuit of a mermaid meant the loss of one's Immortal Soul, yet sailors continued to jump.