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Jaw’s first victim was a Weeki Wachee mermaid

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As an aquatic-themed motion picture, the 1975 film “Jaws” appears to be the ideal choice for the upcoming ‘dive in’ style movie night at Weeki Wachee Springs, also known as Buccaneer Bay After Dark. “Jaws” is scheduled to be shown on July 23 and guests will float on a tube in the spring at night while enjoying a thriller classic about a killer shark terrorizing a small beach town. At the same time they’ll also be witnessing a little known slice of Weeki Wachee history.

Any avid film viewer will tell you that this modern classic opens with a scene of a beautiful young swimmer Chrissie Watkins, who dies in a shark attack. What few know, however, is that the misbegotten Ms. Watkins was portrayed by a one time Weeki Wachee mermaid, actress and stuntwoman Susan Backlinie. “Susan’s performance is iconic,” said John Athanason, tourism marketing specialists at Florida’s Adventure Coast Tourism Bureau and former development representative at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. “Jaws’s first victim, once was a Weeki Wachee Mermaid. I believe Susan swam as a Weeki Wachee mermaid from 1965 to 1966.”

Athanason conducted a video interview with Backlinie, now a California resident, during which she revealed that she incorporated her ballet-style mermaid moves into her swimming scene. She also revealed that she has a daughter who resides in Brooksville. “The first time I met Susan, I told her I refuse to go in the water at night, even in my pool, thanks to her,” Athanason said with a chuckle. “Susan is a sweet person and very adventurous.”

“Jaws” debuted in theaters on June 20, 1975. And on July 23, 2022, “Jaws” will come to Buccaneer Bay After Dark. Weeki Freshwater Adventures has obtained required licensing to display Jaws (1975) for this public showing.

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The movie will begin at sunset which will be at 8:45 pm and concessions will be available for sale. Admission prices for this PG-rated film are $12/person; ages 0-2 are admitted free. Stadium style seating will be available on land; tube rentals will be available for an additional cost: Lazy River admission will be for $5; Lazy River & tube in the water during the movie will be $12.

Buccaneer Bay will be open between 6:30-8:30 pm, including water slides, swim area, and the Lazy River. The Tiki Bar will be open and serving themed drinks, including kid friendly options. The Pirate Grub & Snack Shack food areas will also be open, along with our Surf Shop with themed souvenirs.

Ask at the Weeki Wachee ticket booth for the full list of admission options. “Our online sales have capped out,” explained Ann Spivey, a Weeki Wachee manager. “But we will be taking walk ups the night of the show, starting at 6:30 pm.” Due to higher demand pre-sale ticket holders will have first come first served for the Lazy River and tubes for the movie, as there is a limited supply.

While the Weeki Wachee Family Movie Night debuted in March with a showing of “Jurassic Park”, this marks only the second time in park history that the film has been shown in a special ‘dive in movie format’ for Buccaneer Bay After Dark. The first being “The Pirates of the Caribbean, the Curse of the Black Pearl” shown in June. The next Buccaneer Bay After Dark movie night will feature “The Goonies” on August 27th, 2022 at 6:30 pm (Movie at 8:30 pm).

Guests are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and picnic blankets to the “Jaws” showing, but are not permitted to bring outside food/drinks, coolers, alcohol, tents, and pets. “People enjoy watching ‘Jaws’ because it scares them,” said Spivey. “It’s an adrenaline rush.”

And aside from being a thrilling movie, Jaws ranks no. 56 on the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Films of All Time. “It’s a classic movie,” said Spivey.

Jaws actress Susan Backlinie, from her days as a Weeki Wachee mermaid. Photo supplied by John Athanason.
Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey is a features journalist and author who is the winner of Florida Press Association honors and a certificate of appreciation from LINCS (Family Support Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force) and Sunrise Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center for her newspaper coverage of these issues. She graduated cum laude from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., with a journalism major and English/sociology minor, and previously wrote for publications that include the Pasco editions of The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. A native of Indiana, she lives in Florida.
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