Friday, September 17, 2010
The Feejee mermaid is probably the most famous cryptozoology-related humbug ever created and although we have mentioned it a few times on the blog, including Alan Friswell's marvellous creation for the CFZ that featured in the first ever published guide to Feejee-mermaid-fabrication in Fortean Times, we have never actually had an in-depth look at the story behind this staple of the sideshow.
The original Feejee mermaid arrived in New York in the company of Dr J. Griffin of the British Lyceum of Natural History in mid July of 1842. For some time previously the local papers of New York had been receiving gushing letters brimming with excitement over a strange creature that had been caught in the 'Feejee islands' (an alternative spelling of the Fiji islands) that was part human and part fish. Indeed, according to the letters, this was no less than a real mermaid, an animal which according to scientists was a creature of myth created by the minds of randy sailors. The papers were certainly interested in seeing and reporting upon this marvel when Dr Griffin came to town, and they practically besieged his hotel in the hope of seeing the mermaid and gaining an exclusive report.
Someone other than the press was also very interested in the mermaid and this being nineteeth-century New York, it really doesn't take a genius to guess who...the world's greatest showman ever Phineas T. Barnum.
Barnum gave several newspapers what they thought was an exclusive when he approached each in turn offering to donate a woodcut that he no longer needed that they could use to illustrate their stories. Barnum said that he had been trying to buy the mermaid off Dr Griffin and had prepared the woodcut beforehand for use in producing promotional materials; however, Barnum told the newspapers, this was not to be as Dr Griffin had turned him down. The newspaper was happy to take the woodcut off Barnum's hands as this meant that they could get their copy out faster and with an illustration, something their rivals would surely not have! The fact that they could also tie this story in with a local celebrity also helped push up the article's importance and chances of hitting the front page.
On the day the stories were published - the 17th of July - Barnum revealed his true hand and distributed thousands of copies of his own leaflets about the mermaid throughout New York. The woodcuts and the leaflets both depicted mermaids as nubile , plump-bosomed, young ladies without a scallop shell bikini in sight.
This borderline pornography certainly got locals even more interested in seeing the mermaid, who was sure to be a rare beauty if these pictures were to be believed. The reaction of these New Yorkers to seeing the wizened and emaciated half-fish and half-monkey mummy that was the real Feejee mermaid must have been priceless. Unsurprisingly, after the departure of Dr Griffin the mermaid was housed in Barnum's New York museum where it continued to draw huge crowds. The mermaid went on a tour soon after, even reaching England in 1859, and was destroyed in a fire at Moses Kimball's Boston museum, where it was residing, sometime in the 1880s.
Readers - I, Harriet Wadham, roving reporter for the Weird Weekend, interviewed Lars Thomas the hair analysist (and more besides that), to bring you vital pieces of information…
Name: Lars Thomas
Connection with the Weird Weekend: He met Jon in London 15 years ago. They were good friends and as a result, around 6 or 7 years ago he got a letter asking if he would talk at the third Weird Weekend.
Why he began doing things for the CFZ: Lars is a zoologist and Jon wanted him to identify the hair samples. Lars also has fun around CFZ personnel.
Favourite cryptozoological author: Karl Shuker as he finds new stories all the time and travels to find subjects and sightings.
When his interest began: Lars was given money to buy some books at the book stall and a book about the Loch Ness Monster particularly caught his eye. After reading this he began to buy more cryptozoological books.
Most fascinating place his interest has taken him: Belize- scattered with Mayan ruins and spread with rainforests. Folklore was also based around the jungle.
That was your vital information. What?? It’s not disappointing! ...is it?
If you can ignore the sub-Rentaghost acting and abysmal special effects then it’s not a bad story. It is set in a small lakeside town in Colombia. The town’s main employer is a large US cement company whose works have been polluting the lake for years killing off all the fish much to the anger of local fishermen. An activist, incensed by the pollution, is spreading anti-US sentiment in the area and a reporter from America is covering the pollution story, showing the company up in a bad light. One woman claims that her husband was devoured by a monster from the lake several years ago, but no body was ever found and she is looked on locally as a witch. Carradine, the town priest, thinks the monster is of a diabolical nature.
Anyhow, you will all soon be reunited with the blog you know and love as (unless I've misread the email he sent me t'other day) the CFZ's very own Godfather, Downes Corleoni will be back in residence on the morrow, so there will be no more need for me to bore anyone with my impending search for the orang pendek's favourite brand of vodka....
Yesterday’s News Today
On this day in 1949 Frank Morgan died. Morgan is best known for his role as the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz. Fans of the TV series Life on Mars will also recognise the name, as Sam's doctor was named after him in one of the series' numerous references to the Wizard of Oz.
And now, the news:
Sorry, can't resist the urge to post a Monty Python clip: