Beach bound? Mermaid Museum offers magical diversion in Berlin

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the Mermaid Museum (Part 1)

When my kindergarten teacher asked us to name sea life, I shouted, “Mermaids!”

“Sorry, Jason, they’re not real,” she said to my embarrassed 6-year-old self.

However, the Mermaid Museum in Berlin, Maryland, takes a different approach.

“You know, your teacher might be wrong,” Creator Alyssa Maloof told WTOP. “You come to the museum and see some of these sightings from the first century all the way to 2017, and your mind might be changed that there really are mermaids.”

Maloof, a seasoned photographer with 20 years of experience, officially opened the museum March 27.

“I came to this sweet little gem of a town in Berlin from Philadelphia and got this amazing space,” Maloof said. “It’s a small tourist town eight miles from the beach. … I’ve always loved mermaids. Everybody does. During the pandemic, I decided to just fully go for it.”

In 2014, Budget Travel voted Berlin, Maryland, the Coolest Small Town in America.

“It’s so close to the beach and has this historic vibe,” Maloof said. “The building is an old Odd Fellows building. It kind of looks like a western film here. ‘Tuck Everlasting’ was filmed here. ‘Runaway Bride’ was filmed here. All of the shops are just so cool and everybody who lives here has great vibes. It’s a really cute place to bring your kids.”

When you walk inside the historic building, you’ll head upstairs to a mystical space.

“It feels like you’re entering this magic world,” Maloof said. “There’s music, there’s a fountain, it looks like a museum. There’s large sculptures, there’s different things to read on the walls, there’s little peepholes [where] kids can look underneath the pedestals. … There’s a bathtub that you can get into with a mermaid tail, so you look like a mermaid.”

The experience is meant to be enjoyed by all ages.

“A lot of grandpas come in here and they love it because there’s a lot of history,” Maloof said. “There’s a dress-up box, so you can read while your kids are running wild dressing up. … I like to sit outside and nobody knows it’s mine, so I’ll be like, ‘How was it?’ Even teen boys will say, ‘Oh man, it was awesome.’ … The kids just like to be in the space.”

Why does the myth of the mermaid endure?

“The myth of the mermaid is something artists are always using to depict very different themes in their artwork — the mystery, the danger, the sea,” Maloof said. “It’s one of these enduring myths about the human fish. It’s not like there’s a kangaroo person throughout all of these different cultures. It’s always the human and the fish together.”

The myth can be found throughout different cultures around the world.

“In Africa, there’s the Mami Wata, which means Mother Water. In Haiti, it’s La Sirene. In Norway, it’s the Finfolk,” Maloof said. “Christopher Columbus, there’s records in 1493 of him spotting three mermaids jumping out of the water. He says, ‘They were not as beautiful as they are painted, but they have a human appearance in the face.'”

In 2013, “Animal Planet” had huge ratings with mermaid “footage” on April Fools’ Day.

“That ‘Animal Planet’ documentary shattered the network’s ratings,” Maloof said. “That got the most views, so there’s something to the fact that everybody is just into mermaids. … The ocean is still such a mystery and so much of the earth is covered with the ocean, so it’s still this unknown thing and we want to relate to it.”

Expect to spend 30 to 60 minutes in the museum.

Entry is $11, but kids get in free.

“It’s kind of a bizarre thing,” Maloof said. “When I would say I was making a mermaid museum, people would say, ‘What? What is a mermaid museum?’ But once you get going, there’s so much I can keep adding.”

Find ticket information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the Mermaid Museum (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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