Around 1822-famed master of the “Humbug” P.T. Barnum acquired and object of much intrigue from his friend Moses Kimball, then proprietor of the Boston Museum. The object was to be Barnum’s greatest known “Genuine Fake” called the FeJee Mermaid. This curiosity was purported to be actual proof incarnate of the existence of mermaids captured by Japanese fishermen off the coast of Fiji. The hype generated by Barnum created a media sensation for his American Museum. However, as many came to see the mermaid they began to wonder if it was the real deal. In reality, the famed FeJee Mermaid was nothing more than a fish’s body and tail, the breast of an orangutan, and the head of a baboon. This “genuine fake” as it soon became known still generated a stir among Barnum’s patrons and granted him the notoriety as one of the greatest entertainers of the day. Skating very close to out an out fraud Barnum displayed many more Humbugs throughout his life but none would be more notorious than the so-called FeJee Mermaid would.
Now on display in the first floor atrium of the Quick Center at Saint Bonaventure is a FeJee Mermaid, Assumed to have come from Barnum’s collection it was discovered in a locked storage space in 1996. Resembling the actual FeJee Mermaid there is no real proof it is the one thought to have been destroyed when Barnum’s American Museum caught fire in 1865. Where it came from originally could be anyone’s guess but since its discovery, it has generated as many questions of its authenticity as Barnum’s original “genuine fake.”