Early in the summer of 1842, Moses
Kimball, Esq., the popular proprietor of the Boston
Museum, came to New-York and
to me what purported to be a mermaid. He stated that he
had bought it of a sailor whose father, while in
Calcutta in 1817 as captain of a Boston ship, had
purchased it, believing it to be a preserved specimen of
a veritable mermaid, obtained, as he was assured, from
Japanese sailors. Not doubting that it would prove as
surprising to others as it had been to himself, and
hoping to make a rare speculation of it as an
extraordinary curiosity, he appropriated $6000 of the
ship's money to the purchase of it, left the ship in
charge of the mate, and went to London.
He did not
realize his expectations, and returned to Boston. Still
believing that his curiosity was a genuine animal and
therefore highly valuable, he preserved it with great
care, not stinting himself in the expense of keeping it
insured, though re-engaged as ship's captain under his
former employers to reimburse the sum taken from their
funds to pay for the mermaid. He died possessing no
other property, and his only son and heir, who placed a
low estimate on his father's purchase, sold it to Mr.
Kimball, who brought it to New-York for my inspection.
the story. Not trusting my own acuteness on such
matters, I requested my naturalist's opinion of the
genuineness of the animal. He replied that he could
not conceive how it was manufactured; for he never knew
a monkey with such peculiar teeth, arms, hands, etc.,
nor had he knowledge of a fish with such peculiar fins.
do you suppose it is manufactured?" I inquired.
don't believe in mermaids," replied the naturalist.
"That is no
reason at all," said I, "and therefore I'll believe in
the mermaid, and hire it."
the easiest part of the experiment. How to modify
general incredulity in the existence of mermaids, so far
as to awaken curiosity to see and examine the specimen,
was now the all-important question. Some extraordinary
means must be resorted to, and I saw no better method
than to "start the ball a-rolling" at some distance from
the centre of attraction.
Engaged for a short time, the animal (regarding
which there has been so much dispute in the
scientific world) called the FeJee Mermaid!
Positively asserted by its owner to have been taken
alive in the FeJee Islands, and implicitly believed
by many scientific persons, while it is pronounced by
other scientific persons to be an artificial production, and its natural existence claimed by them to
be an utter impossibility.
The manager can only say
that it possesses as much appearance of reality as
any fish lying o the stalls of our fish markets-but
who is to decide when doctors disagree? If it is
artificial, the senses of sight and touch are useless,
for art has rendered them totally ineffectual.
If it is natural, then all concur in declaring it
the Greatest Curiosity in the World!
in due time
a communication appeared in the New-York Herald, dated
and mailed in Montgomery, Ala., giving the news of the
day, trade, the crops, political gossip, etc., and also
an incidental paragraph about a certain Dr. Griffin,
agent of the Lyceum of Natural History in London,
recently from Pernambuco, who had in his possession a
most remarkable curiosity, being nothing less than a
veritable mermaid taken among the Fejee Islands, and
preserved in China, where the Doctor had bought it at a
high figure for the Lyceum of Natural History.
A week or
ten days afterwards, a letter of similar tenor, dated
and mailed in Charleston, S.C., varying of course in the
items of local news, was published in another New-York
followed by a third letter, dated and mailed in
Washington city, published in still another New-York
paper -- there being in addition the expressed hope that
the editors of the Empire City would beg a sight of the
extraordinary curiosity before Dr. Griffin took ship for
A few days
subsequently to the publication of this thrice-repeated
announcement, Mr. Lyman (who was my employee in the case
of Joice Heth) was duly registered at one of the
principal hotels in Philadelphia as Dr. Griffin of
Pernambuco for London. His gentlemanly, dignified, yet
social manners and liberality gained him a fine
reputation for a few days, and when he paid his bill one
afternoon, preparatory to leaving for New-York the next
day, he expressed his thanks to the landlord for special
attention and courtesy. "If you will step to my room,"
said Lyman, alias Griffin, "I will permit you to see
something that will surprise you." Whereupon the
landlord was shown the most extraordinary curiosity in
the world -- a mermaid. He was so highly gratified
and interested that he earnestly begged permission to
friends of his, including several editors, to view the
result might easily be gathered from the editorial
columns of the Philadelphia papers a day or two
subsequently to that interview with the mermaid. Suffice
it to say, that the plan worked admirably, and the
Philadelphia press aided the press of New-York in
awakening a wide-reaching and increasing curiosity to
see the mermaid.
I may as
well confess that those three communications from the
South were written by myself, and forwarded to friends
of mine, with instructions respectively to mail them,
each on the day of its date. This fact and the
corresponding post-marks did much to prevent suspicion
of a hoax, and the New-York editors thus unconsciously
contributed to my arrangements for bringing the mermaid
into public notice.