No. 424
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
May 21, 2019

The Feejee Mermaid.

October 29, 2012
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Chapter 2
This broadside comes from the National Library of Scotland’s vast collection of print ephemera, “The Word on the Street”. Account of the Execution of Elizabeth Nicklson, or Shafto, or Jeffrey, when was Executed in front of the Jail, this morning, for a Double Murder, 1st, with administering, on the 4th October last, to Ann Newal […]
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ExecutedToday.com - 5/21/2019


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Coming in May! Warps and Wefts is excited to announce the publication of “Dressing Miss Lizzie”, a collection of paper …

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Lizzie Borden : Warps & Wefts - 4/23/2019
Montreal Gazette, October 13, 1857, via Newspapers.com William Townsend was, on the whole, a very ordinary sort of villain. His numerous grim deeds were brutishly uncomplicated, wholly lacking any of the originality, enterprise, or even flashes of humor that go to make some crimes permanently capture the public imagination. Townsend, in his private life, had a talent for mimicry that in
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Strange Company - 5/20/2019

Jeff and Joe Soapy Smith buries Joe Simmons The Illustrated Police News April 9, 1892 (Click image to enlarge) oe Simmons was a tall, slender gambler known to many as “Gambler Joe” Simmons, a member of the Soap Gang who managed Soapy Smith's Tivoli Club in Denver, 1890, and Soapy's Orleans Club in Creede, 1892. According to William Devere’s poem "Two Little Busted Shoes," Simmons
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 3/25/2019
In July 1890, a man came into the 126th Street Police Station in Harlem, New York City, to report a conversation he had overheard in an elevated train. A young man and woman sitting near him were talking about the mysterious disappearance of Miss Goodwin from the Storm King flats on East 126th Street. They believed that she had been foully dealt with by “professional malpractioners.” The woman
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Murder by Gaslight - 5/18/2019
I’m not the first old sign enthusiast who came across this beauty of a beer sign on the tenement at 317 East Fifth Street. Grieve wrote it up back in January, and I’m sure other fans walking along this quiet East Village block noticed the ancient signage, too. “S. Cort Wines & Lager Beer” the […]
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Ephemeral New York - 5/19/2019
[Editor’s note: Guest writer, Peter Dickson, lives in West Sussex, England and has been working with microfilm copies of The Duncan Campbell Papers from the State Library of NSW, Sydney, Australia. The following are some of his analyses of what he has discovered from reading these papers. Dickson has contributed many transcriptions to the Jamaica Family […]
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Early American Crime - 2/7/2019
John L. Sullivan Saved by a Neck. | Naughty Anthony.

The Feejee Mermaid.

Feejee Mermaid

In August 1842, a sensational new curiosity called the Feejee Mermaid was exhibited at P. T. Barnum’s American Museum in New York City. [more]
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mermaid ad
Though it was advertised throughout the country with pictures of traditional, topless female mermaids, the real Feejee Mermaid looked more like an unnatural amalgam of dissimilar species. Which, in fact, it was. Instead of seeing an alluring full-sized mermaid of legend, visitors to the museum found a small, taxidermically preserved specimen with the withered head and abdomen of a monkey grafted onto the tail of a fish. It was described by one critic as the “incarnation of ugliness.”

 

The Feejee Mermaid was not new when Barnum introduced it. The mermaid had been on display for months in a museum in Boston and had been exhibited twenty years earlier in London. It took the showmanship and promotional skill of P. T. Barnum to make the Feejee mermaid a star. In addition to the misleading advertisements, Barnum created the story of Dr. J. Griffin, an English naturalist who captured the mermaid near the island of Feejee.

 

P T Barnum
Not everyone believed in the mermaid’s authenticity. The Feejee Mermaid had as many skeptics as it had avid believers and heated debates went on wherever it as exhibited. P. T. Barnum did not care whether people believed in the mermaid or not, as long as they came to see it. As he (allegedly) said, “The bigger the humbug, the better people will like it.”

 


Sources:

  • Barnum, P. T.. Struggles and triumphs, or Forty years' recollections of P.T. Barnum written by himself. Author's ed. Buffalo, N.Y.: Warren, Johnson, 1873.
  • Boese, Alex. The museum of hoaxes: a collection of pranks, stunts, deceptions, and other wonderful stories contrived for the public from the Middle Ages to the new millennium. New York, NY: Dutton, 2002.