3. The Feejee Mermaid
Photo in public domain from Wikimedia Commons
P.T. Barnum was a showman and business man who, besides founding the Barnum & Bailey Circus, was known for his many ridiculous but highly celebrated hoaxes. One of his most famous ones was the Feejee Mermaid exhibit. In the early 1800s, an American sailor, Samuel Barrett Eades, sold his ship for a supposed mermaid that was discovered off the coast of Japan. He took it back to the United States and put it on display between 1823 and 1825, only to go broke when the specimen was proven a fake.
Fake or not, Barnum acquired the “mermaid” in 1842 from Moses Kimball of the Boston Museum. Barnum gave each New York City newspaper an exclusive scoop on the new exhibit and even offered up a woodblock illustration. The duped newspapers all ran the same “exclusive” story, resulting in Barnum’s new mermaid exhibit getting a ton of free publicity.
When the exhibit opened, crowds of people came to see the mythical creature which was accompanied with lectures by a Dr. J Griffin of the British Lyceum of Natural History. Not only was the mermaid a fake, but Dr. Griffin was too. Barnum hired a Levi Lyman to pose as an expert from this fictional British museum.
The mermaid in question turned out actually to be the head and torso of a baby monkey sewn onto a fish tail, covered with paper mache, which is actually just way more creepy than it is mythical. Today, the location of the this weird creature is unknown, though it most likely died in the fire that destroyed Barnum’s American Museum in 1865.