ODU is getting its mermaid, just in time for the iconic symbol’s 20th birthday

The Norfolk Mermaid turns 20. (Southside Daily/Courtesy Norfolk Convention & Visitors Bureau)
The Norfolk Mermaid turns 20. (Southside Daily/Courtesy Norfolk Convention & Visitors Bureau)

NORFOLK — Buffalo New York has its buffalo, Cinncinatti has its flying pigs and inspired by Chicago’s cows, Norfolk has its mermaids.

Now, as the city’s signature symbol celebrates its 20th anniversary, the more than 24,000 enrolled at Old Dominion University are getting their own mermaid to bring “a sense of belonging” and represent students’ connection to their campus, said Isaiah Lucas, president of ODU’s Student Government Association.

“The mermaid is also about tradition and growth so we want students to every year take a picture with the mermaid to show their growth over the years,” Lucas said.




 Although Lisa Jones, ODU’s director of marketing and branding, said the mermaid is a collaborative project between ODU art students, Student Government Association members, and “mermaid specialist” and ODU alumna, Georgia Mason, university officials remain mum on its design with plans for an unveiling in spring 2020.

Lucas said it was important for the Student Government Association to head the project.

“The best additions to our campus are those which are student-driven and student-focused and the mermaid embodies this,” he said.

In November 1999, late Norfolk attorney Peter Decker introduced the idea of “Mermaids on Parade” to 300 business and civic leaders after he said his wife, Bess, had been to Chicago during the famous “Cows on Parade” exhibit, according to the city’s website.

The site credits, Kevin Gallup, a local sculptor, who then mass-produced the initial 130 mermaids soon after Decker’s presentation for local businesses to adopt and local artists to customize.

The result two decades later is a public art exhibit featuring an unknown number of unique mermaids spanned across the city for residents and visitors alike to enjoy.

Officials at the Norfolk Convention & Visitors Bureau encourage “mermaid spotters” to pose with and take photos of mermaids they see throughout the city and post using the hashtags #Mermaid20 and #NorfolkVA so they can “keep track with her birthday photo album.”

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Lucretia Cunningham is a multimedia journalist at Southside Daily covering hyper-local stories in Virginia Beach and Norfolk. Her stories focus on public safety, tourism, and city government. She is a Virginia transplant and military spouse originally from Chicago. Lucretia also served on active duty from 2006 to 2016 and started her journalism career as a broadcaster in the Virginia Air National Guard. When she’s not covering stories on the Southside, she’s covering stories with her Air National Guard unit.