Rural Missouri - October 2013 - (Page 30)

photo courtesy of The Aquamaids pose for a 1964 postcard promoting the Aquarama underwater show in Osage Beach. The show was dubbed, “a musical underwater revue for young and old.” Underwater Fun I by Barbara Gibbs Ostmann n 1964, 16-year-old Quinetta Rutledge, nee Kateman, was waiting tables on the first day of her job at a Lake of the Ozarks café when she overheard some diners talking about try-outs for a new underwater show, Aquarama. “I took off my apron and told my boss I had to go. I went home, got my swimsuit and went to the try-outs.” Quinetta became one of the first Aquamaids at the Aquarama underwater show in Osage Beach, swimming through the 1964-67 seasons. The show, which ran from 1964 to 1973, was billed as “The world’s most beautiful and novel underwater show! Beautiful girls that live like fish! Daring Aqualads in the monster fight! The musical underwater revue for young and old.” Reunion begins with a brochure Quinetta and other Aquamaids and Aqualads gathered for a 50-year reunion this summer in Osage Beach. The reunion was the result of a chance event some seven years earlier, when Jeff Kunkle and Kelly Burg of Vintage Roadside in Portland, Ore., were looking through a stack of old brochures at an antiques show and found one for Aquarama. “It was a simple black and silver brochure with the word Aquarama on it, along with the silhouette of a mermaid,” recalls Jeff, whose business includes designing T-shirts of former roadside attractions. The mermaid seemed like a good addition. Kelly recalls thinking, “A mermaid attraction in Missouri? What is going on?” Because each T-shirt is accompanied by a history of its roadside attraction, Jeff and Kelly began researching Aquarama. At first, they had little luck, but that changed after they listed the Aquarama T-shirt on their website. Soon, an order came from Osage Beach, with an email from Janie Jeffries Hamner, an Aquamaid from 1964-69, asking if they’d like more information about Aquarama. One 30 contact after another led to others who had been involved in the show. A major breakthrough came from Pamela Davis of St. Louis, the granddaughter of Wally and Nola Johl, the founders of Aquarama, and niece of their son, Marc Johl. While Googling Aquarama one day, Pamela found the Vintage Roadside website and its Aquarama T-shirt. She emailed Jeff to say that Aquarama was her grandparents’ company and put him in touch with Marc. “I still get goose bumps thinking about the first time Jeff talked to Marc,” says Kelly. The conversation lasted three hours. The Aquarama story Aquarama was born in 1962 during a Johl family trip to Weeki Wachee in Florida, one of the earliest underwater mermaid shows, which still operates at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. During the show, the Johls looked at one another and said, “We could do this. We could do it in a pool, it doesn’t have to be in a spring,” recalls Marc. They asked Barbara Hodgson, a Weeki Wachee mermaid, if she would come to Missouri to train the swimmers. She agreed, and from there, the project took off. The Johls lived at the Lake of the Ozarks. They designed and built the theater on Highway 54 about a half-mile east of the Grand Glaize bridge. The 450-seat theater had an 85,000-gallon tank where the swimmers performed. Twelve plate-glass windows formed the 50-foot-wide front of the tank. (The theater building is still there; it housed The Happy Fisherman restaurant for 37 years until the restaurant closed in 2011.) Nola and Marc designed the costumes and wrote and narrated the scripts. “We recorded the narration in my bedroom with the mic fastened to a lamp stand with a rubber band so it wouldn’t vibrate,” recalls Marc. While the theater was being built, the swimmers were being recruited and trained. “If it weren’t for the people I went to school with, we wouldn’t have had a cast,” says Marc with a From 1964 to 1973, Aquamaids and lads amused Osage Beach visitors suits from the previous year, even laugh, noting that many of the firstthough the chlorinated water was hard year swimmers were from his class at on the fabric. “I was wearing one of the School of the Osage in Lake Ozark. last year’s swimsuits,” says Liz Nelson “I was just 19 when I came here to Pope, Aquamaid 1966-68, “and as I train the others,” recalls Barbara Hodgswam, the seams popped open. I just son Bretko, the lead mermaid, who went to the bottom and swam away.” now lives in Florida. “I thought it was Pope, who lives in Brazito, is also a exciting.” Three Rivers Electric Cooperative The Johls ran member. Aquarama from 1964 The show included many to 1967. In 1968, they converted it into Cabaret stunts. Danny Foust of Eldon, an Aqualad in 1967, drank Aquarama, a restaurant/ two Nehi grape sodas a day night club, with the under• — under water. Marion water show, an organ bar Osage Van Rest from Raymore, and a four-piece band for Beach Aquamaid 1967, ate a entertainment. From 1969 banana under water. to 1973, different manageA stunt that wowed audiment ran the business. After 1973, ences was “smoking” a peace pipe Aquarama faded away. The Aqualads during an American Indian-themed and Aquamaids went about their lives. skit. “There was a little sack of milk in Some stayed in the area while others the pipe; you would suck in the milk scattered across the country. and then blow it out into the water. Most of them had not seen their It looked like real smoke,” says Jim former swimming buddies for years — Hymes, Aqualad 1967 and a Laclede until Jeff and Kelly tracked them down Electric Cooperative member. “That and invited them to Osage Beach for was a trade secret at the time. the reunion. “Aquarama was the most fun job a kid at the Lake of the Ozarks could Waves of memories have. It wasn’t just pumping gas or Marlen Manzer Frank, Aquamaid waiting tables. You were performing,” 1967, lives in Osage Beach and helped says Jim. “Aquarama made a bunch of Jeff organize the reunion from Oregon. hillbilly kids feel like they were workReunions are a time for reminiscing, ing in Hollywood.” and this one was no exception. RecallMarc and his wife, Ann, came from ing funny moments kept the AquaraGeorgia for the reunion. “I’m amazed ma alums laughing. that after 50 years, most of us are Quinetta recalled a “strip tease” still alive and kicking,” says Marc, an number she performed on a trapeze. Aqualad from 1964-68. She wore a red bikini with Velcro Working at Aquarama provided straps over a skin-colored swimsuit, conversation fodder long after the job and removed the bikini while on ended, Marlen notes. “It’s great for the the trapeze. “My father was not very ‘tell us something about yourself that pleased about the bikini,” says Quinetno one knows’ question. I whip out a ta, who lives near Jefferson City and photo of me as a mermaid. It always is a member of Three Rivers Electric breaks the ice.” Cooperative. Judy Kriete, Aquamaid 1964-65, Jeff Kunkle would love to see any laughs as she relates an embarrassing Aquarama memorabilia, history or moment. “Some of us had a little extra home movies, as he hopes to produce an help in our swimsuit tops. One night, Aquarama documentary. If you have any one of them floated out and up to the Aquarama items, please email him at top of the tank — but the show must go on!” Judy is from Washington, Mo., Ostmann is an author and freelance and now lives in Texas. writer from Gerald. One year they tried to re-use swim- WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP http://WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - October 2013

Rural Missouri - October 2013
Schooled on sailing
A deer dilemma
Therapy for the heart & soul
Out of the Way Eats
Gone RVing
Charge of the Iron Brigade
Hearth and Home
Underwater fun
Around Missouri

Rural Missouri - October 2013