In the depths of downtown Berlin, Maryland, tourists and locals alike can dive into one of the ocean’s greatest mysteries: The Mermaid Museum is a historical exploration and artistic appreciation of the culture surrounding the mythical aquatic creatures. The world’s first museum dedicated to mermaids opened this spring in the small Maryland town, which is about 10 miles inland from Ocean City.
The museum is housed in a 2,200 square feet room on the second floor of a historic downtown building. There are six walls filled with information about recorded sightings of mermaids dating back to the first century to as recently as 2017 and depictions of mermaids in art.
Owner Alyssa Maloof is a long-time artist and photographer. The room first functioned as her photo studio, but she saw more potential for it. “We’re close to the ocean, and it’s just this grand big space with windows all around, high ceilings,” she says. “You see all the tourists walking around, and you’re like they need to come up into the space and experience the space, and then it just came to me to have a mermaid museum.”
The mystery and history of the creatures caught her eye. “Why mermaids?” Maloof says. “I guess I just got the sirens’ call.” The town’s proximity to Assateague State Park also made mermaids seem like the right focus.
Maloof says she was scared to pursue the idea at first and didn’t know much about mermaids prior to this venture. Despite this, she went full-steam ahead with research in July 2020. She spoke with Vaughn Scribner, author of Merpeople: A Human History, a book that tracks the history of mermaids throughout film, science, myths, and more. She also read Sea Enchantress, a 1961 book focused on the folklore of mermaids. And, of course, she did some internet searching for information, art, and other oddities that could be included.
One of the weirdest pieces in the exhibit was actually an internet find, and it was pretty cheap too. There is a mermaid-shaped Cheeto on display that Maloof says she bought off eBay for $4: a dollar for the cheese puff plus $3 shipping.
Since the museum’s opening, many visitors have come to experience the exhibit. Maloof says weekends average around 40 to 50 people a day (weekdays are slower). On the biggest weekend, around 85 visitors came to the exhibit.
Some of her most invested visitors are older adults. “Grandpas love it too because there’s all this history,” Maloof says. “A guy yesterday came in. His wife didn’t want to come in, so she went to get ice cream and he came back to go through the Mermaid Museum and he loved it.” She says his wife later left a glowing review of the spot online.
Her younger visitors are enjoying the exhibit too, even though it’s not necessarily geared towards them. There is a sign at the entrance giving a bit of a warning to visitors: “Nudity and fish nudity. Early mermaids didn’t wear suits.” Maloof also included some aspects in the museum meant for kids to enjoy. There’s a treasure chest filled with dress-up clothes for kids to wear and take photos in.
The Mermaid Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm and entrance is $11.