This is an article I wrote in 2005 when I was a graduate student in the Museum Studies program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. My course work involved classes at the Milwaukee Public Museum. One assignment was researching a specific artifact. It turns out that the Milwaukee Public Museum has a Feegee Mermaid. This article, posted on Showhistory.com, was a distillation of the research I did for that assignment.
The Feejee Mermaid:
The Milwaukee Public Museum’s Taxidermied Treasure
By Karl Wolff
Karl Wolff is a master’s student in Public History-Museum Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He works as a teaching assistant in the History Department. During the summer of 2005 he completed an internship at the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida, working with the Marketing & Communications Department.
Inquiring regarding this article can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Feejee Mermaid represents humanity’s attempt to deal with their myths. This physical manifestation of ancient myths harkens back to other works of art, but then became a myth in its own right, resurrected in the modern sideshows. Modern sideshow professionals keep the myth alive, entertaining crowds and preserving a specific part of American cultural heritage.
Throughout the centuries, there have been alleged mermaid sightings and exhibitions of mermaids before the Fejee Mermaid. The Fejee Mermaid (note the spelling) became Phineas T. Barnum’s greatest humbug and remains a staple in the Barnum literature. The humbug tradition carried on with the Milwaukee Public Museum’s “Japanese Mermaid”. Today modern taxidermy artists make “animal gaffs” for sideshows and a general audience. On the surface, their profession appears peculiar, but they actually carry on a tradition spanning hundreds of years in supplying sideshows and carnivals with fake animals.
Because the “Japanese Mermaid” is a taxidermy hybrid, a combination of fish and papier-mâché, this presents a series of challenges in a number of areas, including: cataloging, conservation, and collections. The fake animal was constructed out of the cheapest of materials for the entertainment of the sideshow audience, but has mythological, cultural, and historical associations that make it one of the more valuable and intriguing artifacts of the Milwaukee Public Museum.
Mermaids in Mythology
The mermaid is a mythical creature. According to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, the mermaid was a “fabulous sea marine creature, half-woman and half-fish, allied to the SIREN of classical mythology, [that] probably arose from sailor’s accounts of the dugong”i. An Irish mermaid is called a merrow, from the Irish word murbhach.ii These merrows “were believed by Irish fishermen to forebode a coming storm.”iii The sense of foreboding is also associated with the Sirens in Homer’s Ulysses. Unlike mermaids, sirens were “half-woman and half-bird”iv, but remain mythical figures that seduced travelers into disaster. Siren comes from the Greek word seira meaning ‘rope’ or ‘entangler’.v Besides Irish and Greek mermaids, similar mythical creatures exist in other cultures as well. Jan Bondeson mentions Artergatis, the “fish-tailed Phoenician moon goddess”vi.
The sea’s power and unpredictability are embodied in these figures, whether as a sea goddess, siren, or mermaid. This will become important later in history as the competing forces of myth and tradition collide with the yearning for empirical proof and the growing reliance on science as a method of explanation.vii The Feejee Mermaid will become emblematic of this tumultuous reassessment of knowledge, science, and mythology.
Mermaid Sightings and Early Mermaid Relics
Prior to the appearance of the Feejee Mermaid in 1822, mermaids made their presence known to Western Europeans. These spectacles came in two varieties: sightings and relics. While the historical accuracy of the sightings is dubious, these phenomena are instrumental in understanding how the public will later react to The Feejee Mermaid.
The mermaid sightings, while easy to dismiss, are analogous to UFO sightings of the present day and other cryptozoological encounters (e.g.: Bigfoot, Chupacabra). What is missing from these encounters is physical evidence. Bondeson cites examples of contact with living mermaids. The popular imagination had yet to be debunked by science, so it was natural to believe these tales. In 1403 a “living mermaid [was] caught off Edam, Holland”viii. In 1531 a live mermaid was caught off the Baltic coast and was sent as a present to King Sigismond of Poland.ix
Encounters were not limited to European waters. In 1560 Jesuits in Ceylon caught seven tritons and seven mermaids.x Unfortunately, Bondeson does not have much detail about these early “live mermaids.” The lack of details can be attributed to the lack of primary sources and the lack of physical evidence. Given the wide array of marine life, it would be plausible that the Jesuits caught a vaguely human-looking sea animal and gave it the name “triton” or “mermaid”. These early encounters reveal the difficulties of animal classification.
Classification becomes a primary issue when scientists came in contact with the creatures of mythology. In the 1700s, the anatomist Thomas Bartholin possessed a hand and tooth of Sirenica danica, which later sold at public auction in 1826.xiii The anatomist Carl Linnaeus, the inventor of binomial nomenclature, saw two specimens. The first was a mermaid caught off the coast of Nyköping, Jutland. Another specimen, a “siren” from Brazil, was kept in a museum in Leyden and appeared in the tenth edition of Linnaeus’s Systema Naturaexiv. But this classification of mermaids and sirens is not out of character with taxonomy, since scientists have given animals names like hydra, medusa, and devilfish.
The first mermaid to tour in Britain was in 1737.xv A live mermaid was exhibited in the market of St. Germains as late as 1759, while two tritons were caught off the Isle of Man in 1800, and well-publicized mermaid sightings were reported in 1809 and 1812.xvi In 1809, more than a decade before the appearance of the Feejee Mermaid, an exhibitor is charged with fraud for displaying a fake mermaid.xvii
Fraud will become a major issue with the appearance of the Feejee Mermaid. The battles between science and mythology, elitism and populism, entertainment and education will be fought in the first half of the nineteenth century. The battleground will be the animal gaff in the form of an ugly mummified mermaid.
The Fejee Mermaid
While literature on earlier mermaid sightings and exhibitions remain sparse, much has been written about the Fejee Mermaid (note spelling). Its association with Phineas T. Barnum is responsible for its well-known status, especially among sideshow professionals and taxidermists. Barnum himself called the Fejee Mermaid “The most famous put-on of all.”xviii Olalquiaga asserts that the fake mermaids were “surrogate relics of ancient dreams”xix. Its immense popularity reflected “a century obsessed with empirical proof”xx, functioning in a strange ritual territory as both scientific specimen and mythological relic. Here was material proof that the ancient myths were true. P. T. Barnum would later manipulate truth and reality, destabilizing both in the name of entertainment. But the story of the eponymous Fejee Mermaid is about more than Barnum’s showmanship.
While traveling in Indonesia Captain Samuel Barrett Eades, an American working for the Boston commissioning house Perkins and Co., arrived in Batavia. As one-eighth owner of the merchant vessel Pickering, he was beholden to the majority owner of the vessel, a man named Stephen Ellery. Then Eades saw a two and a half foot animal whose strangeness rivaled its ugliness. As an experienced sailor, Eades must have been familiar with cartographic maps and the monsters depicted in the margins. What he saw was one of those monsters, only this time he could see it with his own eyes and without the bias of a cartographer who heard sea tales secondhand.
Figure 1: The Eades Mermaid (Source: Olalquiaga).
Sources disagree on length, but the literature is unanimous in what made up this alleged Mermaid. Its tail was from a salmon, while the head and torso came from a female orangutan (Figure 1). The eyes were artificial and the nails were either horn or quill.xxi But Eades thought it was genuine, which provoked him to sell the ship and buy the Mermaid for 5000 Spanish dollars or 1200 pounds.xxii He thought he could exhibit the Mermaid and make the money back by charging admission to see the wonder.
The Fejee Mermaid was first exhibited in Cape Town in early 1822. It next appeared on exhibit in the Turf Coffeehouse in St. James’s Street from September 1822 to January 9, 1823.xxiii Paul Semonin states that “Inns were regarded … for upscale viewing,” [but] “The cheapest shows were those of itinerant showmen who set up their displays in the streets near taverns or coffeehouses.”xxiv
Men of science disregarded the exhibition, but the general public thought it was genuine.xxv One of these men was an assistant to the eminent London anatomist Sir Everard Home. Home would later be famous for examining both platypus and mermaid.xxvi William Clift, his assistant, debunked the Mermaid on September 21, 1822.xxvii Harriet Ritvo asserts how “Exhibited mermaids … concretely challenged the established order of nature, which offered them no places.”xxviii The issue of place would later become problematic for scientists attempting to classify the mermaid. When the exploration of Australia was in full swing, Charles Gould stated “many of the so-called mythical animals … come legitimately within the scope of the plain matter-of-fact Natural History.”xxix
Figure 2: Sign for gaff taxidermists (Source: Stencell).
Since taxidermists were producing animal gaffs for sideshows (Figure 2) at this time, the scientists thought it conceivable for “an unscrupulous taxidermist” to attach a fake beak onto another animal, possibly a beaver or otter.xxx
Olalquiaga sums up the bizarre status of the Fejee Mermaid: “By the mid-1800s, then, mermaids have turned into the most confusing of beings, adding their amphibious nature this triple crossover between fact and fiction, life and death, real and fake.”xxxi When Clift debunked the Mermaid in 1822, he took away the source of wonder and, in turn, Eades’s business.
Figure 3: Debunking the Fejee Mermaid (Source: Bondeson).
By November 1822, in a last ditch effort at credibility; Eades advertised that Home said the Mermaid was genuine.xxxii By December of that year, the public had lost favor of the exhibit. On January 9, 1823, Turf Coffeehouse shut down the exhibition.xxxiii During the next year, it toured the provinces, and then from 1825 to 1842 its whereabouts were unknown.xxxiv
The Mermaid reappeared in 1842, when Moses Kimball, the proprietor of the Boston Museum purchased it from Eades’s son.xxxv Barnum leased the Mermaid from Kimball, then exhibited it in his American Museum.xxxvi To promote the Mermaid, he wrote a pamphlet “A Short History of Mermaids” and forwarded the theory that mermaids were the link between men and fish.xxxvii While comical by today’s standards, the theory was plausible during the 1840s. Sea horses, sea lions, mermaids. On the basis of form, it made sense. The paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould explains pre-Darwinian scientific theories, stating:
Since the modes and practices of science inevitably reflect a surrounding social environment, we should scarcely be surprised that the early to mid 19th century world of revolution in politics, and romanticism in art, literature, and music, also inspired a series of biological movements called Naturphilosophie in Germany and romantic, idealistic, transcendental, or philosophical anatomy elsewhere.xxxviii
These different scientific ideas found a new arena of conflict with the Fejee Mermaid. With Darwin’s Origin of Species to be published a decade later, the public searched for empirical proof that mythical creatures existed. Animals from Australia were already proving that truth is stranger than fiction.
On an 1843 tour of the southern states, Barnum’s uncle, Alanson Taylor, promoted the Fejee Mermaid. Unfortunately, Taylor was not a showman like Barnum and later found himself in a controversy over the Mermaid’s authenticity. Two eminent academics from the University of Charleston and a Reverend found the mermaid fake.xxxix The peculiar alliance between religion and science was not odd, reflecting a growing derision by intellectual elites against popular entertainments like sideshows, carnivals, and dime museums.xl
The Mermaid eventually returned to Kimball (Figure 4) in June of 1859.xli Here the literature becomes more confused and contradictory. Bondeson discusses the Mermaid being on exhibited until the 1880s, yet saying the Eades Mermaid could have been destroyed in the Boston Museum fire of 1865.xlii
Figure 4: Mermaid attributed to Moses Kimball’s at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (Source: Alderson).
Moses Kimball later had his heirs donate another mermaid to Harvard.xliii This mermaid was a “fake” Fejee Mermaid and not the authentic Eades Fejee Mermaid. Harvard still has the Kimball Mermaid in its collection as well as a mermaid donated by Carrie Lamb in the 1920s.xliv This specific mermaid has many similarities with the “Japanese Mermaid” in the Milwaukee Public Museum’s collection.xlv
The Japanese Mermaid of the Milwaukee Public Museum
Figure 5: The “Extraordinary Japanese Mermaid” of the Milwaukee Public Museum (Source: Author’s Photo).
The “Japanese Mermaid” (Figure 5) has a story as sparse as the Fejee Mermaid’s is full. Even with the knowledge of the taxidermist who might have made it, areas remain shrouded in mystery. I hope my research will place the MPM’s artifact in context and allow future researchers the ability to investigate areas that are unknown. One of those areas is donor information.
Figure 6: The Lamb mermaid at Harvard’s Peabody Museum is similar in design to the Milwaukee Public Museum’s “Japanese Mermaid” (Source: Harvard’s Peabody Museum website).
The MPM’s Japanese Mermaid is similar in appearance to other fake mermaids (Figure 6). Although the mermaids are not identical, this is because they are all handmade. Each has its own individual quirks and differences, but the similarities are in its design and placement of arms and head. Olalquiaga characterizes the manufacturing of mermaids as “belonging to that pre-industrial world which the nineteenth century was both annihilating and pining for.”xlvi She continues, arguing “fake mermaids represent a kind of simulacrum whose manual production and scarce multiplication distinguish it from the seriality that characterizes most modern copies.”xlvii This individuality of mermaid craftsmanship and scarcity of antique mermaids (not modern gaffs made to look antique, although those exist as well), has made the job of tracking down a single craftsman less arduous.
Bondeson mentions a Philadelphia taxidermist by the name of William McGuigan who produced mermaids in the 1840s to rival the Feejee Mermaid.xlviii Olalquiaga does not mention McGuigan by name, but beneath a photograph of a fake merman from the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale, Venice, she claims that particular artifact is “one of a series … made by the same artisan”.xlix
In all three mermaids, the number of “ribs”, along with the same arm positions, and the head design are all very similar. The Peabody mermaid and the MPM mermaid have other similarities. The Lamb mermaid has some hair on its head, and the MPM Mermaid’s head is shiny, the substance possibly remnants of an adhesive used to secure the hair. The MPM Mermaid’s hair could have either fallen off or been taken off by sideshow visitors, fascinated by these “surrogate relics of ancient dreams”.l
William McGuigan was an assistant to Titian Peale, the son of Charles Willson Peale, the artist and founder of the American Museum.li In the 1830s, Jonathan Harrington of Boston, built his own museum which had “a respectable group of McGuigan mountings plus random curiosities.”lii The holdings eventually ended up in Moses Kimball’s possession, after the Harrington Museum was sold in 1842.liii It is coincidental, since Phineas T. Barnum leases the “Fejee Mermaid” in 1842, after it had disappeared for more than a decade.
During 1839, McGuigan and Franklin Peale examined additions to the scientific collections. “Most of it—minerals, seeds, skins of animals of all sorts—was not exhibitable.”liv In 1841 William McGuigan was appointed as a curator of the Ruben Peale’s Philadelphia Museum Company. McGuigan became curator during a time of financial crisis.lv
During the fateful summer of 1842, William McGuigan entered into the Fejee Mermaid craze. “[W]hen William McGuigan promptly acquired a matching specimen of his own, from “a gentleman in the city,” one may suspect that he, the expert taxidermist, made it himself.”lvi Even McGuigan’s promotion was similar to Barnum’s, but also similar to the card on the MPM Mermaid. He said that it was “a wonderful creation of man’s ingenuity … being the handy work of the Japanese.”lvii The result was “attracting crowds and cutting short the fanfare built up in New York by Barnum.”lviii With McGuigan’s fake, the Philadelphia Museum was saved from financial ruin.
After Rembrandt Peale and Joseph Parker, two members of the Philadelphia Museum’s Committee of Investigation, offered a mea culpa for past sins, Titian Peale was reinstated as curator on November 1, 1842. McGuigan later stepped down as curator and Museum Record Book entries cease after October 28th.lix He had worked at the Philadelphia Museum for fifteen years, but “had at least a small livelihood as a taxidermist.”lx
In 1848, when Barnum left the dime museum business to enter the field of musical theatre (a common practice among dime museum owners), he sold his collections. The 1848 Sheriff’s sale catalogue lists the various types of artifacts and curiosities purchased from the Peales. “The Japanese Mermaid” was listed under the category “Miscellaneous and Unidentified.”lxi “McGuigan’s “Japanese Mermaid” went to Kimball who already had one. Both are still extant.”lxii The endnote in Sellers’s book states that both are in the Peabody Museum.
The Peabody accessioned the Kimball Mermaid in 1897, while Carrie Lamb donated another mermaid in 1928.lxiii The McGuigan Mermaid is actually the Lamb Mermaid, which is similar to the MPM’s Mermaid. How MPM acquired a Japanese Mermaid made by William McGuigan has not been discovered, since the donor documentation is still missing. Al Muchka also gave corroborating evidence that could make the Mermaid one of McGuigan’s taxidermy. He stated that the sign in the “wonder box” appears to be made in the 1920slxiv, which is the same time that Lamb donated her mermaid to the Peabody.
Due to its fascinating appearance, it could have also been in the possession of a sideshow or carnival prior to her purchase. The same could be said for the MPM Mermaid. The sideshow or carnival could have added the sign at a later date. Unfortunately with sideshows and carnivals, preserving the wonder of the animal gaff relies on the anonymity of the artist. McGuigan, depending on his financial situation after leaving the Philadelphia Museum, could have made a series of similar Japanese Mermaids and sold them to sideshows and carnivals.
The Mermaid was never intended to function as a piece of art, but as a zoological specimen. This practice of deception, coupled with the sideshow technique of exaggeration and quasi-scientific rhetoric, make it a challenge to document its history.lxv
Figure 7: Sarina Brewer’s Feejee Mermaid (Source: http://www.customcreaturetaxidermy.com/).
Figure 8: Mark Frierson’s Feejee Mermaid (Source: http://www.magicofchristopher.com/frierson/)
Figure 9: Juan Cabana’s Feejee Mermaid (Source: http://www.thefeejeemermaid.com/index.htm)
The profession of making animal gaffs for sideshows continues into the present day. In the original form of this paper, I included examples from prominent animal gaff artists in a Visual Appendix. As with any art form, procuring a complete catalog of present-day artists who make Feejee Mermaids would be a challenge.
I have chosen three gaff artists as exemplary gaff makers. Sarina Brewer, Mark Frierson, and Juan Cabana make modern recreations of the Feejee Mermaid. Brewer’s work is, at least aesthetically speaking, of the highest quality (Figure 7). The work is realistic with a Gothic intensity. It is also in high demand among sideshow professionals. Mark Frierson’s work appears more human-like, whereas Brewer’s appears more animal-like (Figure 8). Frierson’s designs recall McGuigan’s mermaids while Brewer’s mermaids bring to mind genetic manipulations that have gone awry (more Dr. Moreau than P.T. Barnum). Juan Cabana’s (Figure 9) work is large and also the most expensive (a six foot specimen was being sold online for $6000). His work is highly detailed and reminiscent of McGuigan’s mermaid, especially in the design of the head. The Bibliography lists the websites where these mermaids can be seen or purchased.
While this is a brief overview of the modern gaff artists, it is important because the Fejee Mermaid has become a myth in its own right, inspiring artists the same way mermaids inspired craftsmen and taxidermists in an earlier era. The original Fejee Mermaid was used by Eades to demythologize fantastic creatures to an audience grasping the contradictions and turmoil of the Industrial Revolution, modern gaff artists re-mythologize the mermaid, inspiring sideshow audiences with a sense of wonder in the Digital Age where information and answers (however dubious) are at our fingertips and science has neutralized the spiritual and shrunk the Great Unknown.
The Perils of Hybridity
The Japanese Mermaid presents a series of challenges to the Museum. These challenges are the perils of hybridity and they encompass the areas of cataloging, conservation, and collections. Its hybridity, half-simian half-fish; half-papier-mâché, half-organic; half-zoological oddity, half-historical artifact; make otherwise routine museological tasks more precarious.
Cataloging is a challenge because the Mermaid has three potential areas where it could be listed: zoology, anthropology, and history. Muchka explained that the Mermaid was in Zoology during the 1980s, but was re-cataloged by the History Department in 1993. He also went on to say that the Mermaid does not fit into History’s collection policy and the Museum would not accession any similar artifacts in the future.lxvi
Conservation presents another challenge. The presence of both papier-mâché and fish make it difficult to preserve. Both substances have inherent vices that make it challenging to place the artifact in an environment optimal for both.
Collections, already briefly explained, are the final challenge. As a cataloging anomaly and conservation challenge, it remains in the MPM collection because of its historical significance. This paper has been an attempt to contextualize the Japanese Mermaid within the various strata of significance: mythology, taxidermy, sideshow history, and its relationship to modernity. The Japanese Mermaid, even though still more investigation needs to take place, is a highly significant and historically pivotal artifact, worthy of protection, conservation, and, perhaps, a return to exhibition.
Milwaukee Public Museum: H53343 / 28457, “Japanese Mermaid”.
Peabody # 97-39-70/72853, “Java”, Kimball 1897.
Peabody # 28-6-60/D3257, “Japan”, Lamb 1928.
O’Leary, John G., ed. Struggles and Triumphs of P.T. Barnum: Told by Himself. London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1967.
Barnum’s autobiography gives unique insights into the promotion and troubles encountered with the Fejee Mermaid.
Circus World Museum. Baraboo, Wisconsin.
Milwaukee Public Museum. Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Dawn Sher Thomae
Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermy.
Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Cambridge, Massachusetts.
David B. Denholtz (a.k.a. D.B. Doghouse)
Sideshow_World@Yahoo.com (Online discussion group)
Conservation Report: Condition/Minor Treatment. Milwaukee Public Museum. Undated. Unsigned.
Department of History 11, (Milwaukee Public Museum: Date of entry: 9 June 1993).
Muchka Al, Associate Curator of American and Local History/Collections Manager, Milwaukee Public Museum. 20 April 2005.
Alderson, William T., ed. Mermaids, Mummies, and Mastodons: The Emergence of the American Museum. Washington, D.C.: American Association of Museums, 1992.
This book is a great resource. It has one of the best color photos of the Kimball Mermaid. The earnings of the American Museum are charted in the back.
Bachmann, Konstanze, ed. Conservation Concerns: A Guide for Collectors and Curators. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992
Boese, Alex. The Museum of Hoaxes: A Collection of Pranks, Stunts, Deceptions, and Other Wonderful Stories Contrived for the Public from the Middle Ages to the Millennium. New York: Dutton, 2002.
Boese’s book is an encyclopedic resource covering a wide historical range. His account of the Fejee Mermaid is concise and accurate.
Bondeson, Jan. The Feejee Mermaid and Other Essays in Natural and Unnatural History. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999.
Bondeson uses a combination of historical, medical, and cultural sources in his account of the Fejee Mermaid. It was instrumental in tracing the mythological roots of the mermaid as well as tracking mermaids in museum collections.
Gould, Stephen J. The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2002.
The first third of Gould’s magnum opus explains pre-Darwinian theories of development, including Cuvier, Lamarcke, and Saint-Hilaire. It is key to understanding the scientific theories at the time, which could have validated people’s beliefs in fossilized mermaids.
Olalquiaga, Celeste. The Artificial Kingdom: A Treasury of The Kitsch Experience with Remarkable Objects of Art and Nature, Extraordinary Events, Eccentric Biography and Original Theory plus Many Wonderful Illustrations Selected by the Author. New York: Pantheon, 1998.
Olalquiaga’s book is an anthropological examination of loss, copies, and mythology. She asserts that the Fejee Mermaid represents the fossilization of a myth in an age seduced by the glories of technological advancement.
Ritvo, Harriet. The Platypus and the Mermaid and other Figments of the Classifying Imagination. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997
Ritvo’s perspective is from a zoologist’s point of view. The interrelated stories of the Fejee Mermaid and the duck-billed platypus yield interesting insights into the challenges of classification.
Room, Adrian, ed. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable: Millennium Edition. London: Cassell Publishers Ltd, 1999.
This book is an updated edition of a classic text. A wealth of information is categorized alphabetically and abundantly cross-referenced.
Sellers, Charles Coleman. Mr. Peale’s Museum: Charles Willson Peale and the First Popular Museum of Natural Science and Art. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1980.
Sellers gives the history of the triumphs and troubles encountered by Charles Willson Peale and his sons. It also has the most information about William McGuigan, the famed taxidermist working for the Peales.
Semonin, Paul. “Monsters in the Marketplace: The Exhibition of Human Oddities in Early Modern England” in Freakery: Cultural Spectacle of the Extraordinary Body. Rosemarie Garland Thomson, ed. New York: New York University Press, 1996.
Semonin’s article recounts the tensions between elite critics, both religious and scientific, of the carnival and the popular imagination. Freakery is a comprehensive anthology, exploring various topics of “the extraordinary body” from television shows, literature, and beyond. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Prof. Nigel Rothfels was another contributor.
Stencell, A. W. Seeing is Believing: America’s Sideshows. Canada: ECW Press, 2002.
Stencell’s book explores the many types of exhibition in sideshows and is a great resource for information on animal gaffs.
This is a good site to explore urban legends and hoaxes.
The Arkansas Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo has a merman.
Sarina Brewer’s website offers a wide variety of products, from animal gaffs to reproductions of mythological creatures.
This website has good information on P.T. Barnum and resources about freak shows.
The website of the Great Orbax, sideshow performer and gaff maker.
A comprehensive website on anything relating to mermaids.
Mark Frierson’s website, another animal gaff artist.
Website of Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology. An excellent research resource assists visitors with a search engine allowing for analysis of artifacts in its extensive collections. The research staff was also accommodating and friendly.
The Ripley’s Museum contains a Fejee Mermaid. The Museum is “Highly secretive” according to sideshow professionals.
The website served as an encyclopedic resource for everything odd and peculiar in the American landscape, from the Muffler Man to the Feejee Mermaid and beyond.
This is the website of the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermy (MART), of which Sarina Brewer is a co-founder. An excellent website when exploring the world of animal gaff artists.
This is a website focusing on animal gaffs and the Feejee Mermaid. They are in need of contributors to write articles on certain gaffs.
The Yahoo! discussion group that provided an insider’s perspective on the sideshow profession, promotion, and connection.
Juan Cabana’s website where he showcases his artwork, but also has many images of other Feejee Mermaids.
A website devoted to Phineas T. Barnum.
iAdrian Room, ed., Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable: Millennium Edition (London: Cassell Publishers Ltd, 1999), s.v. “Mermaid”.
ii Ibid., s.v. “Merrow”.
iv Ibid., s.v. “Siren”.
viJan Bondeson, The Feejee Mermaid and Other Essays in Natural and Unnatural History (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999), 36.
viiCeleste Olalquiaga, The Artificial Kingdom: A Treasury of The Kitsch Experience with Remarkable Objects of Art and Nature, Extraordinary Events, Eccentric Biography and Original Theory plus Many Wonderful Illustrations Selected by the Author, (New York: Pantheon, 1998), 272.
viii Bondeson, The Feejee Mermaid, 41.
ix Ibid., 41-42.
x Ibid., 42.
xi Ibid., 57.
xii Ibid., 57.
xiii Ibid, 42.
xiv Ibid., 42.
xv Ibid., 57.
xvi Ibid., 42.
xvii Ibid., 57.
xviiiJohn G. O’Leary, ed., Struggles and Triumphs of P.T. Barnum: Told by Himself, (London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1967), 62.
xix Olalquiaga, The Invisible Kingdom, 262.
xx Ibid., 272.
xxi Bondeson, The Feejee Mermaid, 44.
xxii Ibid, 38.
xxiii Ibid., 39-40, 47.
xxivPaul Semonin, “Monsters in the Marketplace: The Exhibition of Human Oddities in Early Modern England” in Freakery: Cultural Spectacle of the Extraordinary Body, Rosemarie Garland Thomson, ed., (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 70.
xxv Bondeson, The Feejee Mermaid, 41.
xxviHarriet Ritvo, The Platypus and the Mermaid and other Figments of the Classifying Imagination, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), 7.
xxvii Ibid., 44.
xxviii Ibid., 178.
xxix Gould in Ritvo, 182.
xxx Ritvo, The Platypus and the Mermaid, 4.
xxxi Olalquiaga, The Invisible Kingdom, 264.
xxxii Bondeson, The Feejee Mermaid, 44.
xxxiii Ibid., 46-47.
xxxiv Ibid., 48.
xxxv Ibid., 49.
xxxvi Ibid., 50, 53.
xxxvii Ibid., 52.
xxxviiiStephen J. Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2002), 298
xxxix Bondeson, The Feejee Mermaid, 53-54. The Reverend John Bachman and University of Charleston academics Lewis R. Gibbes, a mathematician, and J. Edwards Holbrook, a professor of anatomy debunked the Mermaid.
xl Semonin, “Monsters in the Marketplace,” 71.
xli Bondeson, The Feejee Mermaid, 54.
xlii Ibid., 54.
xliii Ibid, 54. See Accession Files from Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Cambridge, Massachusetts for more information on the Kimball mermaid. Also see Vis. App. Y, Z, AA.
xliv See Accession Files from Peabody Museum.
xlv See Vis. App. A-U, BB, CC. BB is from the Peabody Museum. CC is from a museum in Venice.
xlvi Olalquiaga, The Invisible Kingdom, 274.
xlvii Ibid., 275.
xlviii Bondeson, The Feejee Mermaid, 54.
xlix Olalquiaga, The Invisible Kingdom, 261.
l Ibid., 262.
liCharles Coleman Sellers, Mr. Peale’s Museum: Charles Willson Peale and the First Popular Museum of Natural Science and Art (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.: 1980), 262.
lii Ibid., 268.
liii Ibid., 268.
liv Sellers, Mr. Peale’s Museum, 291.
lv Ibid., 290-291.
lvi Ibid., 299.
lvii McGuigan in Sellers, 299.
lviii Sellers, 299.
lix Ibid., 299-300.
lx Ibid., 300.
lxi Ibid., 313-318.
lxii Ibid., 316.
lxiii See Accession Papers for the Peabody Museum and Peabody Research Correspondence in Documentation File.
lxiv Al Muchka interview, 20 April 2005.
lxv For more information on sideshow exhibitions and animal gaffs, consult A. W. Stencell’s book Seeing is Believing: America’s Sideshows (Canada: ECW Press, 2002).
lxvi Muchka Interview, 20 April 2005.