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Fiji Mermaid

P.T. Barnum, depicted in this illustration, operated a 19th-century sideshow full of curiosities like the Fiji Mermaid.

Transcendental Graphics/Archive Photos/Getty Images

There's a sucker born every minute, as P.T. Barnum is famed for proclaiming. (Although someone else actually said it. But that's another story.) Barnum, a circus operator and huckster, operated a popular, 19th-century sideshow of "curiosities, freaks and oddities." Many of the people and objects in his sideshow were real: the Fat Lady, the little person Tom Thumb, the Bearded Lady. Then, in 1842, he included the Fiji Mermaid in his sideshow. The Fiji Mermaid, Barnum said, was the mummified remains of a real mermaid [source: TruTV].

People came, saw and believed. But a few skeptics were out there, and they dug around until they found out the truth -- Barnum was a liar. Gasp! The Fiji Mermaid wasn't a deceased sea maiden after all. She wasn't even necessarily a she. Barnum had simply attached the head and torso of a baby monkey onto the tail of a fish, then covered the whole thing in papier-mâché [source: TruTV]. Kinda gross, really.

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