(upbeat playful music) - [Geoffrey] Chicago has its very own mermaid along the lakefront on the South Side.
And like all mermaids, her story is filled with mystery.
No, she doesn't sing to a talking crab, but the story of how she appeared on the lakefront is still pretty cool.
- I gave her more of a... - [Geoffrey] Meet Roman Villarreal.
He's an artist born and raised on the South Side of Chicago and he's been known to create what he describes as guerrilla art.
- Guerrilla means that you don't ask permission, because a lot of times you get caught up in paperwork.
And sometimes when you're in the spirit of wanting to work as an artist, you don't wanna be bothered with all that.
You just go ahead and do it.
That's how the mermaid came to play.
(upbeat playful music) - [Geoffrey] Over the course of 10 days, in 1986, Villarreal and three of his artist friends, sculpted the mermaid out of one of the limestone blocks that protect the lakefront, called revetments, in Burnham Park.
And no, they didn't have permission from the city or the Park District.
So the decision to sculpt a mermaid was strategic.
- So we started saying, okay, well what are we gonna sculpt?
And I told 'em, well, we can't do anything political, this and that.
I said, you know what?
I've been doing mermaids for quite a while.
You know, who's gonna get mad at a mermaid?
- [Geoffrey] The artists didn't try to hide what they were doing either, even when a police officer walked right by them.
- "What are you guys doing?"
"Oh, we're doing this mermaid."
And she, "oh, that's great, that's great."
But she never asked me who, what, where.
- [Geoffrey] The artists kept their identities secret for many years.
That is until Villarreal's daughter let the details slip in 2000.
That year there was a newspaper article about the mermaid during a shoreline revetment restoration project.
- My daughter happened to be working across the street from the Sun Times and she went over there and said, "hey, that's my father who did that."
- So she outed you as the artist.
- And so she had all the sketches, photographs, all that, that they needed to verify that it was me and my friends.
- [Geoffrey] Villarreal's daughter might have been proud of the mermaid for another reason.
She was the model.
But Villarreal had to use a little parental trick to get her to agree.
- My daughter was a contrary.
So I go up to her and I go, ah, nevermind.
She said, "what?"
"Ah, no, nah, nevermind.
I have an idea, but no, you can't do it."
"What is it?"
I said, "well, we need somebody to model."
"I could do it."
Now, mind you, if I were to say, "hey you come over here, go over here and sit," no way would she have done that.
(Geoffrey laughs) So I had to use a completely different way- - [Geoffrey] Psychology.
And she became famous for that.
- [Geoffrey] According to the Park District, the mermaid has moved around a few times as lakefront revetments were repaired.
And she even spent some time in storage.
Today she rests in the grass near Oakwood Beach, as if she emerged straight from Lake Michigan to take a bit of a breather in the sunshine.
(upbeat playful music)