In 1842, Phineas Barnum obtained a dead mermaid from the estate of a dead sailor who had purchased it from Japanese sailors. The sailors had captured the mermaid near the Fiji Islands in the South Pacific.
Intrigued, Barnum visited a naturalist who quickly dismissed the find, claiming that “he never knew a monkey with such peculiar teeth, arms, hands nor had he knowledge of a fish with such peculiar fins.”
The following conversation took place:
Barnum: “Then why do you suppose it is manufactured?”
Naturalist: “Because I don’t believe in mermaids.”
Barnum: “That is no reason at all, and therefore I’ll believe in the mermaid and hire it.” Barnum displayed the mermaid in his Museum in New York and attracted large crowds and media attention.
The controversy continued in the New York Sun where the following review appeared:
“We’ve seen it! What? Why that Mermaid! The mischief you have! Where? What is it? It’s a twin sister to the deucedest looking thing imaginable—half fish, half flesh; and taken by and large, the most odd of all oddities earth or sea has ever produced.”
Unfortunately, the mermaid was destroyed in a fire. Many replicas of the Fiji Mermaid (also called Feejee Mermaid) were created by sewing the head and torso of a juvenile monkey to the back half of a fish. These “mermaids” were common features of sideshows.