Marineland about to celebrate 75th birthday
Published: Monday, June 24, 2013 at 9:02 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 24, 2013 at 9:02 a.m.
MARINELAND, Fla. — While Marineland is famous for its contributions to ocean science and technology, Richard Edgerton says he remembers the park's fun-loving community most.
"All these people were just totally in love with and devoted to the attractions," said Edgerton, who served as Marineland's public relations director from 1962 to 1970. "There wasn't anything like this."
Marineland, which is about to celebrate its 75th anniversary, boasted a "secret chemical," which, according to Edgerton, allowed its water to be clear enough for public viewing. Marineland also used innovative underwater photography and dolphin training techniques, which meant the park was ready when the Beatles stormed the country in 1964.
"We had Beatle wigs and put them on three of the dolphins. . We had a dolphin with a miniature guitar strung around her, and we had a drum set up in the background," Edgerton said. "The dolphin would walk on its tail with the guitar, then come back, and right on cue we had to make it go with, 'I want to hold your hand.'"
The tape was sent to Walter Cronkite and used on the "CBS Evening News," Edgerton said.
Marineland was both educational and scientific, using cutting-edge architecture, tempered glass and handling techniques to create environments where marine life could be better understood.
"A teacher comes down and brings the kids and is astounded how the animals, including the fish, interact. People thought that the sharks would eat everything in the tanks. They did not, because they had been fed," Edgerton said. "All these things had never been put together like that before."
But Marineland's allure came from its commitment to enthrall.
The park showed dolphins and whales performing in ways that hadn't been seen before. Its divers wore old-fashioned, metal helmets, long after oxygen tanks were available, because they were more entertaining. The employees played underwater table tennis on multiple occasions.
One act involved tying a Timex watch to a dolphin's tail. The dolphin then jumped and hit a ball or a baton off a ledge. After the dolphin landed, the trainer would take the watch off the tail, check the time and announce, "And the Timex is still ticking!"
One time, the watch fell off the tail and was ingested by the dolphin.
"So a matter of days went by and (the dolphin) finally passed the watch," Edgerton said. "We got a hold of him and said, "And the watch was still ticking."
When the park opened in 1938 as both an entertainment venue and an underwater film studio, it attracted a number of Hollywood types, partly because its founders were celebrities in their own right. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney was a member of one of the South's most celebrated families. W. Douglas Burden had done a ground-breaking book on Komodo dragons and was a film writer and producer. Count Ilya Tolstoy, who later renounced his title to become an American citizen, was the grandson of acclaimed Russian writer Leo Tolstoy.
Marineland became the set for "Creature from the Black Lagoon" and its sequel, "Revenge of the Creature," from 1954 to 1955. One scene required an extra to jump off the stadium's roof and into the water, clearing a set of bleachers along the way. The director thought the jump was too dangerous for the principal actors.
That didn't stop Ricou Browning, who played the film's antagonist, Gill-man, from doing it anyway.
"Ricou Browning, a star and everything, did a double-gainer off the top," Edgerton said. "He was well in the news at the time."
During Edgerton's time, Marineland added an administration building, a roof over the stadium, the roof's arches and a motel for guests. The Moby Dick Lounge, the Dolphin Restaurant's famous cigar bar, was also built during his time.
Even then it was clear that Marineland was aging. The corrosive sea climate, combined with financial struggles, meant that the park's facilities didn't have much time. Many of the park's buildings have been demolished or reduced since. A portion of the park was bought for redevelopment by the Georgia Aquarium in 2011 and was rebranded as Marineland Dolphin Adventure.
"The Georgia Aquarium only owns two and a half acres. That's not a lot of property," Edgerton said. "There's a great assumption that the Georgia Aquarium owns all of this."
While Edgerton stressed that the entire park wasn't being rebuilt, he said the areas owned by the Georgia Aquarium are promising for Marineland's future.
"People who worked with Marineland should be very, very proud in what the Georgia Aquarium extension has in mind," he said. "Eventually, Marineland will become a town again. There's no question about it."
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