At some point in the 1800s P.T. Barnum (partner with James Anthony Bailey in the Barnum and Bailey Circus) came up with an incredible business idea. Entrepreneurs in other types of business might develop a new type of vacuum cleaner or a system for delivering frozen foods, but Barnum’s unique trade led him to invent one of the ultimate freak show creations of the time: The Fiji Mermaid.
Although there are conflicting reports detailing his methodology in creating this phony monster, the basic idea remains constant throughout history. It involved the acquisition of the lower half of a large fish, preferably something with a skeletal structure that could be proportionate to the skeleton of a monkey. The fish skeleton was then attached to the skeleton of the monkey, removing the monkey legs beforehand to make the new skeleton appear to be a sea creature. Add some papier-mâché or a few scraps of fur and, bingo, you’ve got yourself a Fiji Mermaid! Patrons will pay a minimal fee to catch a glimpse, but startup cost is pretty damn low and so is maintenance. In fact, according to one report, Barnum allowed customers to view the mermaid in his museum at no extra charge. As a result, ticket revenues tripled.
Although the Fiji Mermaid is not “real,” the concept behind its creation is enough to place it in the top ten freakish carnival sideshows of all time. Seriously, who cuts up skeletons and fuses them together as a way to make money? Congratulations, Barnum, you’re a top-notch freak.