History or Hoax #8: Fiji Mermaid


Your typical mermaid – by Caroline Dew

Caroline Dew, Messenger Reporter, Columnist & Social Media Manager

Mermaids – we all wish we were one, right? The beautiful, upper body of a human, and the colorful lower body of a fish. But what if mermaids were real, and what if they didn´t play with spoons and dinglehoppers? What if they did not have beautiful, long hair? What if, instead, their upper body looked like a snarling monkey, and their lower body like a gross bottomfeeder you´d fish out of the bottom of Kentucky Lake? Would you still be interested in the idea of mermaids existing? Probably not. Well, for a long time, people believed that mermaids were indeed real, and that they (or so they thought they did) have solid proof of their existence.


You´ve probably seen this picture before. It’s known as the Feejee (Fiji) mermaid, because the English gentleman who claimed it to be real, reported that it had been caught near the Feejee Islands in the South Pacific. He gained quite a bit of popularity from just claiming to have the creature, and soon the press bombarded him, demanding that he show them the mermaid. Well, what the press saw completely convinced them that they were dealing with the real corpse of a mermaid.


P.T Barnum is a name most people recognize. If the bells are not ringing in your head yet – what if I said the Barnum and Bailey Circus – the Ringling Bros? P.T Barnum is the man who founded that.  the year was 1843, and Barnum was looking for any spectacular thing to con people into giving him money. Barnum asked Dr. Griffin if he could display the mermaid. But Griffin wanted no part of it. So, Barnum decided to get the guy to let him display it by other means – he created an immense amount of publicity by sending out advertisements in newspapers. Soon, the publicity toward Griffin was so great, that Griffin agreed to display the thing in Concert Hall on Broadway.


But whether or not this is a historical oddity or a hoax is not difficult to find out. The Feejee mermaid was, indeed, a hoax. P.T Barnum was the king of hoaxes, and this was just another one of his schemes to make money and trick people. See, Dr. Griffin was not a real doctor at all. Nor was he an English gentleman. He was one of Barnum’s partners, and Barnum simply sent letters, pretending to be Griffin, to the press. And when Griffin first arrived in America, he wasn´t really arriving at all – like I said, he was just one of Barnum’s buddies, and pretending to arrive.
But what about the actual mermaid? Well, the mermaid wasn’t created by Barnum himself – but he did know it was fake. The mermaid, which was actually the upper body of an ape stitched to the lower body of a fish. It was an art mastered by the Japanese, who often used these ´mermaids´ in religious ceremonies. So, the Feejee mermaid was just a fish-monkey. You can imagine that it probably smelled pretty bad. But, if you believed the mermaid to be real, I’m sorry for spoiling it for you. But unfortunately, we still have no proof that mermaids exist.