“#With Mermaid Parade on hold, Coney Island flaunts outrageous mask styles”
Not even the coronavirus could rain on the Mermaid Parade.
Coney Island’s famous annual procession of all things nautical won’t be happening this year on June 20 due to the pandemic. But to hold us over, its organizers have introduced The Maskies: a competition calling for an equally haute display of outrageous style, with a public health twist.
Nonprofit arts group Coney Island USA operates the Coney Island Circus Sideshow and the Coney Island Museum, and usually organizes the Mermaid Parade and other mass gatherings of carnies and tourists alike. This year, the group pivoted to hosting the COVID-friendly “Put on a Funny Face” mask contest.
And its usual suspects delivered.
The winners of the homemade mask awards were announced Monday via livestream. They say The Maskies opened their eyes to a new creative hobby prime for quarantine boredom.
“This became a little addictive,” admits now-avid mask-maker Suzie Sims-Fletcher, who took home two titles: First place for the One New York Award with her Lady Liberty face covering, and first place for the People’s Choice Award for her hot dog mask.
A lifelong seamstress and 17-year attendee of the Mermaid Parade, Sims-Fletcher had already donated hundreds of masks and scrub caps to friends and essential workers by the time she submitted her winning entries to The Maskies, but the contest made her up her creative game, she says. She finished up all her masks the night submissions were due.
Harlem resident Anthony Whitaker decided to compete after his wife heard about the contest on TV. Whitaker, a 9/11 first responder for Con Edison, decided to create masks bearing the eponymous message of his memorial foundation, Steel Standing.
The two-word phrase came to the native New Yorker when he was dispatched to help bring power back to the area after the Twin Towers fell.
“One night, I saw this 270-foot ruin of steel. It was so majestic, and it spoke to me. It said, ‘I am steel and I am steel standing,’ ” he tells The Post. “Out of this tragedy was a powerful message of healing, of the human spirit’s ability to overcome adversity.
The words felt freshly relevant in the current pandemic. “I felt the message could communicate to people an affirmation of overcoming and being strong,” he says. The judges gave him first place in the Best Historical Mask category.
In the Best Coney Themed Mask category, first place went to Ruben Santana’s Wonder Wheel homage — although the Bronx resident admits he has only been to Coney Island once, in high school, and he has never actually ridden the landmarked attraction.
“I always try to go back, but for some reason, something happens and I never make it there,” says the professional dog stylist. When he learned the competition was happening virtually, he saw it as an opportunity to finally return to Coney, if only online. “It was a way to participate and let people know that it’s OK to wear a mask and it can be fun,” he says.
In addition to his winning Wonder Wheel mask, Santana also created a mask for each of the five boroughs — as well as one for his Pomeranian, King Tut.
Although Santana didn’t ride the Wonder Wheel on his one in-person excursion to Coney (he’s scared of heights), the 100-year-old amusement park ride stuck with him. “I find it so beautiful,” he says. “I find it more interesting and at the same time more scary” than other Ferris wheels.
Sims-Fletcher, on the other hand, is a regular at Coney, even making a socially-distanced excursion there in lockdown. While the amusement park remains shuttered despite the summer weather, the experience of being there in person was moving for her.
“The [beach] was pretty empty and so was the boardwalk, but it was sunny and the air was fresh,” she says. “There was no visible destruction, like after Sandy. It’s still here. It’s not going anywhere.”
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