The Secret Mermaid – Chicago, Illinois - Atlas Obscura
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Chicago, Illinois

The Secret Mermaid

This unauthorized stone mermaid was secretly carved out of public stone before being permanently preserved.  

In 1986, four sculptors decided to hide a mermaid along the Chicago lakefront, and now that stone amphibitress is a permanent fixture along the city’s waterfront. 

The guerrilla artists—Roman Villareal, Jose Moreno, Fred Arroyo, and Edfu Kingigna—picked a hidden spot by the water in Burnham Park and spent nine days and nights secretly carving a mermaid into a rocky outcropping. Despite being visited by the police multiple times throughout the process, they were able to complete their unauthorized masterpiece unhindered.

During its time in its original location, the sculpture was just a fun local secret. The mermaid’s cover was blown when it was discovered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during a shoreline revetment restoration in 2000. A brief flurry in the local press speculated that it was everything ranging from the leftovers of a Gilded Age mansion, to Columbian Exhibition waste, to the work of a lovelorn sculptor working alone by the water. Little did they know the mermaid’s creator, Villareal, was a laid-off South Side steelworker recuperating in a VA hospital a few blocks away.

The park district put the statue into storage in 2004, but a group of students worked with the park district to restore it and get it back in the public eye in 2007. The work has sat in its current Oakwood Beach location since 2010.

Know Before You Go

Along the bike path near the Oakwood-41st Street Beach