The Fejee Mermaid Archive

Fejee MermaidThe "FeJee Mermaid" was originally brought to the American Museum in 1842 "at a most extraordinary expense" for the evaluation of a "discerning public." The patchwork creature was one of Barnum's most outlandish and popular hoaxes, appealing to Americans' fascination with puzzles and enjoyment in testing illusion.

There are 6 matching records. Displaying matches 1 through 6 .


FeJee Mermaid
The FeJee Mermaid--now part of the collection of the Peabody 
Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University.
Exhibit: FeeJee Mermaid.
Museum Room: Picture Gallery.
Document Type: Image.


FeJee Mermaid, New York Sunday Herald and Charleston Courier
These two images are illustrations that were used to advertise the FeJee Mermaid when it was exhibited in New York and later in Charleston, South Carolina. The first, of a grotesque fish-monkey composite, was published in the New York Sunday Herald in 1842. It contrasts sharply with the second, of an alluring sea-siren out of a sailor's dream, that appeared in the Charleston Courier on January 21, 1843. The discrepancy between the images was likely due to the constraints of geography and printing technology. A local sketch artist in New York City could render an accurate likeness of the ďmermaid,Ē while a faraway newspaper had to rely on stock printersí engravings to advertise the attraction that was coming to their city.
Exhibit: FeeJee Mermaid.
Museum Room: Picture Gallery.
Document Type: Image.


Three Mermaids
Barnum used this image to advertise his controversial 1842 exhibition of the FeJee mermaid. Once inside the American Museum, visitors were doubtless surprised by the actual appearance of the so-called mermaid; the astonishment engendered by such misleading promotion came to be an expected part of the American Museum experience. A similar image of a bare-breasted mermaid with flowing hair adorned an eight-foot high color banner on the outside of New York's Concert Hall, where the mermaid debuted before transferring to the American Museum.
Exhibit: FeeJee Mermaid.
Museum Room: Picture Gallery.
Document Type: Image.


The Exhibition at the Masonic Hall, Charleston Courier, January 21, 1843
Northerners, drawn by Barnumís carefully-planted doubts about its authenticity, flocked to see the FeJee Mermaid. In the South, however, the issue of the exhibitís deception aroused controversy. This exhibit review was written by an editor of the Charleston Courier, who was inclined to believe it was real and deferred to the expertise of others. A rival newspaper, the Charleston Mercury, published a review that reached the opposite conclusion -- that the mermaid was a fraud perpetrated by "our Yankee neighbors." Heated exchanges of letters and articles ensued, and defending or challenging the mermaidís veracity became equated with challenging the honor of those who disagreed. This debate about honor was far more important to Charlestonians than the question of the FeJee Mermaidís authenticity.
Exhibit: FeeJee Mermaid.
Museum Room: Picture Gallery.
Document Type: Text.


Barnum on the FeJee Mermaid, The Life of P. T. Barnum, Written by Himself, 1855
In this excerpt from his 1855 autobiography The Life of P. T. Barnum, Written by Himself, Barnum describes how he used an employee posing as a scientist and the credulity of the popular press to perpetrate the FeJee Mermaid hoax.
Exhibit: FeeJee Mermaid.
Museum Room: Picture Gallery.
Document Type: Text.


"The Mermaid, and Other Wonderful Specimens of the Animal Creation," 1842
This advertisement reflects some of the ways that Barnum presented the FeJee Mermaid (supposedly discovered by Japanese fishermen) as a wonder of the natural world. From invoking "scientific gentlemen" and a prestigious natural history museum to listing the other zoological wonders that would be exhibited alongside it, Barnum effectively wrapped his fraudulent exhibit in the mantle of science.
Exhibit: FeeJee Mermaid.
Museum Room: Picture Gallery.
Document Type: Text.