Tarpon Club at Strozier

Heritage & University Archives has a new exhibit displaying materials from FSU’s Tarpon Club in the Norwood Reading Room at Strozier. This exhibit was put together by Sierria Groom over the summer. Continue reading to learn more about her experience curating this exhibit and to learn where and when you can view it.

As an individual that is interested in museum studies and curating, I have enjoyed having the opportunity to work on this Tarpon Club exhibit. As an alumni of Florida State University, I am surprised to have never heard of the Tarpon Club, despite their legacy here at the University. Organizing this exhibit was exciting, as the collection for the Tarpon club was hefty. Scrapbooks, photographs, club documents, and video recordings were helpful in not only filling the exhibit cases, but also in collecting the club’s history.

The Tarpon Club began in 1937 after it evolved from the Life-saving Corp at Florida State College for Women (FSCW). The team chose Tarpon as their name, a fish known for its movement and acrobatic tendencies in the water. Performing in synchronicity, they were a crowd favorite, attracting large audiences. Their productions typically took a year to assemble, funded on chocolate and nuts that the girls would sell. Because of their popularity, the Tarpon club took to film screens, local state springs, national/international competitions, and governor’s mansions.

Newton Perry holds a long-standing legacy in Florida. Beginning as a swimmer, he introduced the state of Florida to underwater performances that were thought to be impossible. Perry was the Co-founder of Weeki Wachee springs, also known as the home to the Florida Mermaids. Performances were arranged and choreographed by Perry, who used underwater air systems so these women could perform for a theater sitting 6ft below the water’s surface. These underwater mermaid shows are being performed at Weeki Wachee Springs state park currently. Perry also played a role in the development of films such as Tarzan, Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid, and Easy to Love. He aided with water performances and ultimately created the “campus mermaid” title awarded to members of Tarpon Club throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

Martha Dent Perry and Nancy “Tribble” Benda, members of the Tarpon Club, were recruited to be swimming stunt doubles for leading actresses Maureen O’Sullivan from Tarzan’s Secret Treasure and Ann Blythe from Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid.

Glynise Smith was the Tarpon club advisor and aided in the growth and development of the Tarpon Club from the mid-1950s through the 1970s. As a young coach, Smith redirected the Tarpon Club and started to focus on the yearly performances. The club took on social topics and curated an entire production around central themes. Stage lighting, choreography, props, costumes, posters, and months of rehearsing went into these “water ballets”. Smith directed the Tarpon club for 15 years and with her support, they went to international aquatic art competitions, where they ultimately returned the following years.  

Mary Lou Norwood was also a key component of the Tarpon Club’s success and was awarded Most Valuable Member in 1976. She not only participated as a Tarpon member, but she was also involved in the Club’s productions for 35 years, contributing to everything from choreography to stage exhibition.

Despite their successes, the Tarpon club ended in 1994. You can find this exhibit on the 2nd floor of Strozier Library in the Norwood Reading Room, which is open Mondays through Thursdays 9-6pm and Fridays 9-5pm. To learn more about Tarpon Club memorabilia in our holdings, look through the Tarpon Club finding aid in our finding aid database or visit Heritage & University Archives on DigiNole or in person.

Published by Kacee Reguera

Heritage & University Archives Assistant Florida State University

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