How can you not just love reading old newspaper stories, particularly the types that just reek of fraud, scandal and sheer sensationalism. One particular favorite of ours is a story that caught the attention of readers from around the world in the mid 1800s. When it broke, there was no bigger story than, “The discovery of the Feejee (Fiji) Mermaid”
History has it that in mid July 1842, a gentleman by the name of Dr. J. Griffin (a member of the British Lyceum of Natural History) made his mark in the big city of New York by informing the press that he had in his possession a remarkable curiosity – a real Mermaid (a creature with the head of a monkey and the tail of a fish), which he supposedly caught of the shores of the Fiji Islands. Needless to say the press lapped it up and reporters were convinced that this in fact was the real deal.
As news spread of the new found oddity a fellow by the name of B.T Barnum (today known as the ultimate con-man. swindler, scam artist and entertainer) persuaded Griffin to allow him to showcase the mermaid in his freak show. The Mermaid fiasco is perhaps one of the most famous examples of Barnum’s special talent for duping the public. When later discovered that the mermaid was in fact a hoax, the master of advertising in his defense simply stated, “I don’t believe in duping the public, but I believe in first attracting and then pleasing them.” Barnum is widely, but erroneously credited with coining the phrase, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”