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Grafton, Vermont

The Nature Museum Feejee Mermaid

Antique gaffe kept in the basement of a small Vermont natural history museum 

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The Nature Museum in Grafton, VT, is a small natural history museum in a converted house that is dedicated to Vermont flora, fauna, and geology. It houses quite a few treasures in its handful of rooms, including a couple of extinct animal specimens that have been preserved, a human skull…and a Feejee Mermaid.

Feejee Mermaids are taxidermied chimeras with the tail of a fish and the torso of what is often a monkey. These artifacts originated in the islands of the Far East, and sailors brought them back as souvenirs. On this half of the world, the faux creatures ended up in sideshows or the curio cabinets of private collectors. Feejee Mermaids were popularized in the 1800s by P.T. Barnum, who also coined the term.

The Nature Museum acquired its Feejee Mermaid a decade ago from the Odd Fellows Hall in Brattleboro, VT, along with some accompanying documentation that includes a black and white photo of the creature hanging unceremoniously on a wall of the hall above a large trophy fish.

The specimen/artwork is about a foot long, fragile-looking, and eerie. The bottom half is the requisite fish tail, and the top half contains unidentified animal parts arranged under some sort of dark plaster. Beneath its mustachioed face could easily be the delicate skull of a small monkey. The tips of its arms bore webbed fingers with definite animal claws, and its tiny sharp white teeth could be of animal origin, as well. Currently, The Nature Museum doesn’t display the creature to the public, although they keep it on-site in the museum basement.

Adapted with Permission from: The New England Grimpendium by J.W. Ocker

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