No. 522
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
May 17, 2021

The Feejee Mermaid.

In August 1842, a sensational new curiosity called the Feejee Mermaid was exhibited by P. T. Barnum.
October 29, 2012
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The following tale comes from that classic collection of mostly first-hand accounts of supernatural encounters, "Lord Halifax's Ghost Book."  It was related to Lord Halifax in 1920 by his nephew, Charles Dundas.  Dundas had recently heard the tale from a renowned Royal Air Force pilot named Edward Villiers.  (Later Sir Edward Villiers.)  It is one of the briefest stories in the "Ghost Book," but
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Born in 1870 and completed 13 years later (at a cost of $15 million and with more than 20 worker deaths), the Brooklyn Bridge is marking its 138th birthday this week. What better way to honor an icon than with a brilliant lithograph produced by a Pearl Street publisher depicting the fireworks, ship parade, and […]
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Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately engaged as a carrier of wine, because he and his brother, with the help of […]
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The crack of gunfire startled the residents of 88 Merrimack Street, a boarding house in Lowell, Massachusetts, around 10:00, the night of  August 31, 1876. The boarders rushed to Lulu Martin’s room on the third floor, where the shot was fired. The door was locked; they heard a man inside shouting, “Go for the police! She has shot me! I will hold her! Break open the door!”A group of men broke in
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Along with Bertie Whitehead, Abby’s half-sister, May 13th was also the birthday of Helen Craig, famous stage actress best-remembered for Johnny Belinda. Helen Craig, who played Abby in The Legend of Lizzie Borden was born May 13, 1912, a month after Titanic sank. Helen Craig was not a great beauty by Hollywood standards, but a very fine actress. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0185871/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1 Her portrayal of Abby Borden as a mean, greedy glutton, more than any other thing, has affected the way most people think of Abby Borden. Sadly it was not an accurate portrayal. Helen did some television in her later career, most notably The Waltons. She died in New York City in 1986. She was married to stage and film actor John Beal who played Dr. Bowen in Legend of Lizzie Borden. They are seen together in the publicity photo below.
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[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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The Beecher-Tilton Scandal | Comstockery.

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. Though it was advertised throughout the country with pictures of traditional, topless female mermaids, the real Feejee Mermaid looked more like an
mermaid ad
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.”
 
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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.