For more than 50 years, residents of Bay St. Louis, Miss., have witnessed the spectacle of mermaids parading their way down Highway 90 toward nearby Waveland every Mardi Gras season. Marching bands and dancers accompany a procession of 23 vividly decorated floats, all customized with their own themes that change from year to year.
Previous iterations have featured floats and their mermaid riders decked out in gold, while other times they have sported items representing a multitude of cities and countries or locations such as Disney World.
The hosts of this Mississippi-based Mardi Gras event are the Krewe of Nereids, an all-women krewe that a group of businesswomen originally founded in Waveland in 1967. Nereids, the organization’s namesake, are sea nymphs from Greek mythology who were the children of the deities Nereus and Doris. These entities served as the foundation for tales of mermaids.
Building, storing and insuring their own floats each year naturally runs up significant expenses, so the Krewe of Nereids launched a fundraising event called the Mermaids Arts and Crafts Show in 2016 to cover the costs. This year’s event is this Saturday, Nov. 12, and Sunday, Nov. 13, at the historic L & N Train Depot (1928 Depot Way) in Bay St. Louis. It happens annually on the second weekend of November.
‘Demonstrations of Artisanship’
The Mermaids Arts and Crafts Show features more than 75 vendors from Mississippi and beyond selling handmade goods such as stained glass, carved wooden bowls, serving plates, jewelry, pepper jellies, pottery, wind chimes made from bottles and other objects, and more. To qualify as a vendor for the show, crafters must produce items that are at least 50% handcrafted.
“When we say 50% handcrafted, we mean that you don’t just order things from somewhere else and sell it; you make real crafts and art pieces by hand,” Jeanne Richardson, co-chairwoman for the Krewe of Nereids, says. “For example, I’m a potter, but I don’t make the clay myself. I do glaze it and work it by hand, however. A jeweler may buy beads and other materials from elsewhere, but they make it into what they want it to be themselves.”
“We’re looking for unique demonstrations of artisanship, whatever the material or wherever they get it,” she adds.
Participating vendors at this year’s Mermaids Arts and Crafts Show include Cat Island Creations, Gulf Love Accessories, Art in Focus, Lawson Woodworks, The Jolly Olive, Danro Bazaar, Bijou Moon Jewelry, Mill Creek Pottery, Sea Shells Sea Shells, Carleigh’s Custom Creations, Studio Eight One Eight Designs, Southern Fried Flair and others.
In addition to vendors, the event will include a kids’ zone featuring hands-on arts-and-crafts activities; live entertainment from Nick Perkins, a Tickfaw, La. native Elvies Presley tribute artist, on Saturday; and a performance from Joni Compretta & Baytown Groove on Sunday.
“The train depot offers some nice shady ground on a cool November day, so this makes for a great chance to come out and maybe do some early Christmas shopping,” Krewe of Nereids secretary and co-chairwoman Mary Ann Pucheu says. “Our vendors are proud of their work and offer so much variety, and we’ll even have volunteers on hand ready to help wrap or carry items for customers that need it.”
Krewe of Nereids’ Origin and Mardi Gras Ball
In 1966, Waveland businesswomen Elaine Colson, Nancy Gex, Dot Markel, Claire Bourgeois, Gerry Blanchard, Kitty Mollere and Louise Lynch stood outside the Waveland Drugstore on Coleman Avenue watching a local St. Patrick’s Day parade pass by. A local all-men’s group organized the parade, prompting Colson to suggest organizing an even larger event for local women. The group met at the Waveland Drug store, which Lynch owned, and eventually came up with the Krewe of Nereids Mardi Gras group.
Owing to the fact that Nereus and Doris had 50 nereid daughters in the myth, the krewe originally planned to only have 50 members, and all were intended to be Waveland residents. Bourgeois served as the krewe’s first captain, a position that later passed to Colson, which she held until her death in 2004. Today, Gex is the only surviving member of the Krewe of Nereids’ original founders.
The organization now has more than 140 members living across the United States. The Krewe of Nereids is the third organization on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to have its own parade after Biloxi and Pass Christian, and it is the only women’s organization to own their own floats.
Before launching the Mermaid Arts and Crafts Show in 2016, the Krewe of Nereids had another long-standing event in the form of a Mardi Gras Ball, which the organization has held in January every year since its founding with the exception of 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ball originally took place in the St. Joseph Academy gym in Bay St. Louis, but it has since moved to the Mississippi Coast Coliseum (2350 Beach Blvd., Biloxi). The ball itself is a free event, but the after-party at the adjoining convention center required a charge.
A highlight of the ball is the coronation of a new Queen Doris and her consort, King Nereus, from among the organization’s membership. The previous year’s Doris and Nereus formally pass on a scepter to the new queen and king, followed by music and dance routines that follow the theme of the ball, which the Krewe of Nereids always keeps secret from the public until the night of the event. The theme of the ball subsequently becomes the theme of the next Mardi Gras parade in February.
The ball is a black-tie event, meaning clothing such as tuxedos, dress uniforms or floor-length gowns are required. The Ball is invitation only, with invitations available through krewe members or by online request via emailing [email protected]. The after-party, traditionally called a Supper Dance, includes dancing, a live band, a breakfast buffet and a cash bar. Tickets to the after-party are $100 per person.
A Legacy of ‘Family’
The Krewe of Nereids prides itself on a legacy of family participation, Richardson says. The krewe has seen three different generations of women join its ranks since its founding in 1967, with many current members following in their mothers’ footsteps. The organization has also seen 17 couples who have served as queens and kings at past Mardi Gras Balls.
“My mother was a member of the krewe and had been good friends with Elaine Colson for years before I joined up in 1983,” Richardson explains. “My sister is with us, too, now. The family feel our group has is always what I’ve loved most about it. We work together and have fun together, and if anyone has a problem, everyone is there for them. It’s also what helps us keep everything in-house as much as possible, doing everything from building and maintaining our own floats to making costumes from scratch as a family.”
The Mermaids Arts and Crafts Show is open Saturday, Nov. 12, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 13, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information on the Krewe of Nereids, the Mermaid Arts and Crafts Show or the Mardi Gras Ball and parade, visit thekreweofnereids.com.