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The Hoax of the “Feejee Mermaid”, 1842

P.T. Barnum’s skillful manipulation convinced thousands to see his “Feejee Mermaid.” It was displayed for “positively one week only!” at a concert hall on Broadway. Years later, Barnum recounted with amusement how he had lured the crowds to see an “ugly, dried-up, black-looking specimen about three feet long … that looked like it had died in great agony.”

A generation earlier, on the other side of the Atlantic, the mermaid enjoyed similar notoriety. An American captain named Samuel Barrett Eades purchased the mermaid in 1822, paying for the prize by selling the ship he was supposed to sail. The ship’s real owner, Stephen Ellery, was hardly amused. Ellery hired William Clift, a talented anatomist and zoologist, to examine the specimen.

Clift found the mermaid was a skillful forgery incorporating the head on an orangutan, the teeth of a baboon, artificial eyes, and likely the tail of a salmon. Eades didn’t welcome this news, and later hired his own “experts” to assure him the mermaid was genuine. After entertaining crowds of Londoners, the mermaid fell into obscurity for two decades before Barnum bought it.

(Source: Wikipedia)

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