More creatures encountered by intrepid Demon Hunters Teresa and Jolaine on what became known to history as The Great Demon Hunting Expedition of 2009: The Feejee Mermaid
In 1842, P.T. Barnum arranged for a display of an amazing creature that “Dr. J. Griffin” of the “British Lyceum of Natural History” had brought to the United States for the first time, the “scientifically proven” body of a “beautiful mermaid.”
Now if you’re paying attention to my quotation marks, you probably realize how this story is going to end. Also, if you recognize the name P.T. Barnum as the guy famously credited as saying “There’s a sucker born every minute.” (Though that might be a misquote.)
Well, the Feejee (Fiji) Mermaid turned out to be a disappointment all around: First, it wasn’t beautiful. It looked like the torso of a wizened monkey sewn onto the body of a fish. Second, it wasn’t real. In fact, it was the torso of a wizened monkey sewn onto the body of a fish. Third, Barnum and “Dr. Griffin,” (Barnum’s partner in the hoax, a guy name of Levi Lyman–ha ha, get it? “Lie Man.”), had sort of led people to kind of expect that the mermaid was alive.
But some folks were suitably impressed. Some were not. No one got their admission fee back.
In fact, the ‘mermaid’ wasn’t new. One Captain Eades had brought it to London from the South Seas in 1822, and charged people one shilling to see it.
Interesting, the mermaid may not have originally been a scam that some islander foisted on the gullible captain, but a religious object used in ceremonies.
The real Feejee mermaid may have perished in a fire at P.T. Barnum’s American Museum in 1865. On the other hand, this one might be it. It’s hard to tell. So, gentle readers, I present to you either the real fake mermaid or a fake fake mermaid. Ta-da!
- Jan Bondeson, The Feejee Mermaid and Other Essays in Natural and Unnatural history