Monster Week 2013 on Animal Planet (May 20-27) includes a follow-up special to last year’s hit Mermaids: The Body Found, called Mermaids: The New Evidence. While I am deeply annoyed at last year’s nonsensical program that had the National Ocean Service issuing denials that mermaids exist, it is as good an excuse as any to float some older accounts of mermaid sightings, including some fresh-water specimens. The definition of “mermaid” seemed to extend to anything remotely human-like seen in the water. Once again, I issue my patent disclaimer that I am not a marine biologist (nor do I play one on TV) and I haven’t a clue what the creatures below could have been, if they did not spring from the proverbially rum-sodden and sex-starved imaginations of men long at sea. If you have any ideas, swim over to Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail DOT com.
Is It a Mermaid? – A Strange Being Discovered in a Texas River.
From the Brownsville (Texas) Statesman
A.A. Freeman, Esq., member elect from Haywood County to the next Legislature, made to one of the editors of this paper, in the presence of several well-known gentlemen, the following remarkable story: “J.B. Maxey, an intelligent citizen of Bell’s Depot, in this county, and keeper of the hotel at that place, and for whom A.A. Freeman vouches as a reliable, truthful man, was fishing in a canoe on July 7, in Forked Deer River, near Bell’s Depot, and in that part of the river between the railroad and dirt road bridges, when his attention was called to an object in the river, some fifty yards distant, which presented the appearance of a man drowning. Maxey rowed his boat within ten feet of the object, and saw a remarkable creature, as the following description will testify: It had a face perfectly white, with features like those of a human being. It had something like moss on its head instead of hair, and its neck was longer than the neck of a man. Its body, down to the waist, or so much of it as was exposed, was covered with black and white spots. It was as large as an ordinary man, and had large black eyes. Maxey was within ten feet of it for ten minutes. He did not see any arms. It looked at him and slowly turned around and disappeared in the water. Thomas Neal, Esq., told Mr. Freeman that he saw the same thing at the same place about three years ago, but did not tell it because he thought he would be laughed at. James Neal and Isaac Ward say they saw the same creature.” The New York Times 22 July 1871
A Merman in Ice
A party of yachtsmen, who have recently been cruising in the North Pacific, claim to have discovered and captured a real merman, thus converting legend into fact. They were hunting a school of porpoises one day, when among them they caught sight of a strange, human-looking monster. After a long chase he was bowled over by a rifle-shot, and dispatched with an axe.
On getting him on board they discovered that the monster measured 10 ft. in length. The upper part of the body was that of a largely-built man, the lower part resembled a porpoise. The body, which was very muscular, was covered with long hair of a reddish tint; the arms were brawny and hairy, and on each hand were four fingers and a thumb. The monster was put in ice and [illegible], and is now on his way to England, where the doubts of the most skeptical can be put at rest. Zeehan and Dundas Herald (Tasmania] 16 June 1897: p. 3
The New York Graphic reports that “an old angler, who is vouched for as being ‘as reliable as any fisherman on the river,’ claims to have caught five glimpses of a mermaid in the Ohio, near Marietta. He says that it comes to the surface, looks about it and then gradually sinks, leaving its beautifully long and glossy black hair floating for a moment on the water. He represents it as having the face of a woman, and says that he didn’t shoot the strange creature because he feared that if he did he would ‘get into some sort of a murder trial.’ When asked whether the mermaid carried a comb or looking glass, he resisted temptation and answered, ‘It might have, but I didn’t see any.’” Cincinnati [OH] Daily Gazette 5 July 1881: p. 5
A Dead Mermaid
On Tuesday of last week, Captain Raymond, keeper of life station No. 8, found on the beach what he supposed to be a mermaid, which had been washed up from the sea. It was dead when it came on the beach, and in a slight state of putrefaction. Captain Raymond describes it as being about the size of an ordinary six-year-old boy, and to the waist or middle portion of the body resembled a boy in every particular. He says that its face, head, neck, arms nad bust, as well as hair, were perfect in appearance to those of a human being. There were no fingers on the hands, but a coarse moppy hair, like the frizzled end of a whalebone, supplied their place. The lower portion of the body from the middle or waist downward resembled that of a shark, the tail being covered with a hairy substance simliar to that of the hands. The sea nymph has created great excitement in the vicinity of the station and man yof the inhabitants thereabouts think its presence forebodes bad luck. Captain Fowler says the “tarnal critter” comes there for no good and that it betokens a terrible shipwreck and fearful loss of life which his soon to happen on that part of the coast. Wilmington (Del.) Herald. Salt Lake [UT] Tribune 27 March 1880: p. 5
FROM RECENT LONDON PAPERS.
A mermaid was distinctly seen about a mile from Exmouth, in the month of May last, by a party of ladies and gentlemen who were on a sailing excursion. By throwing to it some boiled fish it was induced to keep at short distance from the boat, and one of the party gives the following description of it:- The head, from the crown to the chin, forms rather a long oval, and the face seems to resemble that of the seal, though at the same time it is far more agreeable, possessing a peculiar softness which renders the whole set of features very interesting. The upper and back part of the head appeared to be furnished with something like hair, and the fore part of the body with something like down, between a very light fawn and very pale pink colour, which at a distance had the appearance of flesh. It has two arms, each of which terminates in a hand with four fingers, connected to each other by means of a very thin elastic membrane. The animal used its arms with great agility, and its motions in general were very graceful. From the waist it gradually tapered so as to form a tail, which had the appearance of being covered with strong, finely polished scales, which occasionally reflected the rays of the sun in a very beautiful manner, and from the back and upper part of the neck, down to the loins, the body also appeared covered with short, round broad feathers of the colour of down on the fore part of the body. The whole length of the animal, from the crown of the head to the extremity of the tail, was supposed to be about five feet, or five feet and a half. In about ten minutes the animal gave two or three plunges in quick succession, as if it were at play. After this it gave a sudden spring, appearing to swim away very rapidly, and in a few seconds was out of sight. A medical gentleman of Exeter has offered a reward of 20l. to whoever may succeed in catching the animal, and will bring it to him for dissection.The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Adviser [New South Wales] 20 November 1813: p. 2
FRENCH PEASANTS SEE MERMAID IN BRITTANY
Fisherman, First to See It, Says It Appeared Out of Sea Fifty Yards From His Boat
Paris. More than a hundred peasants and fishermen at St. Gillea Croix-de-ve, [St. Gilles-Croix-de-Vie] a little village on the coast of Brittany, assert that they have seen a mermaid.
The first to see it was Jules Cuesac, a fisherman. He was casting his nets two miles off the coast when the mermaid appeared out of the sea, fifty yards from his boat. According to Cuesac she was a beautiful creature, with blue eyes and green hair and a sort of phosphorescence on her body that made it glow in ghostly fashion.
The next time she appeared on some rocks near where some children were at play. Three of the children saw her and rushed home to bring their parents. When these came the mermaid had gone. The peculiar thing about this, according to the French newspapers, was that the children had heard nothing of Cuesac’s experience.
Since then half the popular of the village is said to have seen the mermaid at one time or another. She is never more than half out of the water, however, so they are divided on the question as to whether she has a tail.
A French paper has sent a staff photographer to catch the mermaid and make her pose. Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 5 September 1923: p. 1
Again, the “Merman”
The following “Yarn” appears in the Saturday Journal, the writer, it will be observed, refraining from mentioning the name of his ship or the locality of the occurrence: The wind being easterly, we had 30 fathoms of water, when at 10 o’clock in the morning a sea monster like a man appeared near our ship, first on the larboard, where the master was, who took a grappling iron to pull him up; but our captain, named Oliver Morin, hindered him, being afraid that the monster would drag him into the sea. The master, Lemone, struck him on the back to make him turn about, that he might view him better. The monster being struck showed his face, having his two hands closed as if he had expressed some anger. Afterwards he went round the ship, and, when he was at the stern, he took hold of the helm with both hands, and we were obliged to make it fast lest he should damage it. From thence he proceeded to the starboard, still swimming as men do. When he came to the fore part of the ship, he viewed for some time the figure that was on our prow, which represented a beautiful woman, and then he rose out of the water as if he had been willing to catch that figure. All this happened in the sight of the whole crew. Afterwards he came again to the larboard, where they presented to him a codfish hanging down by a rope; he handled it without spoiling it, and then removed the length of a cable, and came again to the stern, where he took hold of the helm a second time. At that very moment Captain Morin got a harpoon ready, and took it himself to strike him with it; but the cordage being entangled, he missed his aim, and the harpoon only just touched the monster, who turned about, showing his face as he had done before. Afterwards he returned to the bow and gazed again at the figure on the prow. The mate called for the harpoon, but he was frightened, fancying that this monster was one La Commune, who had killed himself in the ship a year before, and had been thrown into the sea in the same passage. He was contented to push his back with the iron. The monster had the boldness to take a rope held by the two sailors, who drew him partly up the side, but he fell into the water again, and then withdrew to the distance of a gunshot. He came again alongside afterwards, swam round the ship, and then made off, and we have never seen him since. The “merman” was about 8 feet long; his skin was brown and tawny, without any scales; all his motions were like those of man; the eyes of a proportionable size, a little mouth, a large and flat nose, very white teeth, black hair, the chin covered with a mossy beard, a sort of whiskers under the nose, the ears like those of men, fins between the fingers of his hands, and feet like those of a duck. In a word he was a well-shaped man. Clarence and Richmond Examiner and New England Advertiser (Grafton, NSW] 27 March 1886: p. 6
The existence of the Mermaid, which had heretofore been considered as fabulous or imaginary, would appear by the following account, copies from the Courier of the 25th of August last, to be one of those productions of nature that come under the head phenomena, because they are rarely seen. The account is from Ardsheal, in Argyleshire, of date the 2d of August; and is as follows:
“It is some time since the Mermaid was first seen, very early one morning, by a lad lying on the shore at Ardsheal. He was at a considerable distance, and thought it was some person hiding himself in the sea weed, with an intention of frightening him; but on coming nearer he saw that though the upper part was like a human being, the lower part was like an immense fish. He was so frightened that he ran off and, when he mentioned what he had seen, people only laughed at him, and thought no more about it. Near a month afterwards some children were gathering blackberries on the top of a rock immediately above the sea, about a mile further down than Ardsheal; they thought they saw a woman drowning, and trying to get on the rock; some of them ran home to tell, and the rest staid to see what would become of the woman, as they thought; but, on looking more attentively, they discovered that it was not a human being; they gave a very distinct account of what they saw. The upper part was exactly like a woman, the skin appeared very white and a good deal of colour in her cheeks, with very long darkish looking hair; the arms were well proportioned above, but tapered very much towards the hands, which were no larger than a child’s of eight or ten years old; the tail was like an immense large cuddy fish, or scith, in colour and shape. By the time the people of the farm came, it was about a gun shot from the shore, sitting quite upright on the water. One of the men proposed to shoot her, but the rest opposing it, he did not fire at it; he whistled, on which she turned round, but did not go away; she remained in sight above two hours, at times making a hissing noise like a goose. When she disappeared, she laid herself very gently down on the water, and swam away, the head only appearing above the stream. She was seen a little distance from shore twice after this, always early in the morning, and when the sea was calm.” Note: Mr. Southey, in a note to the first vol. of his History of Brazil, expresses his belief in the existence of the Mermaid. The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW 11 March 1815: p. 2
Exon, July 21. The 12th Instant, just without Exmouth Bar, by Robert Heath (the Person who caught the two Fishes, by People in general called Mermaids, one Sept. 9, 1737, the other 6, last) was taken as strange, or stranger a Fish, supposed by many to be the Triton, or the Merman of the Antients, being four Feet and a half in Length, having a Body much resembling that of a Man, with a Genital Member of considerable Size; together with jointed Legs and Feet, extending from his Belly 12 or 13 Inches, with Fins at his Thighs, and larger ones, like Wings, in the Form of which those of Angels are often painted, at his Shoulders, with a broad Head of very uncommon Form, a Mouth Six Inches wide, Smellers, or kind of Whiskers, at his Nostrils, and two Spout Holes behind his Eyes, through which he ejected Water, when taken, 30 or 40 Feet high. Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg, VA] 3 November 1738: p 1
We hear that great Numbers of the Nobility and Gentry daily resort to see the wonderful SEA-MONSTER, generally allowed to be a SEA-LIONESS, taken on the Suffolk-Coast, as she lay asleep on the Beach December 23, 1749. This wonderful Fish is five Feet in Length, and four Feet round; it has a Head like a Bull-Dog, a Bear like a Lion and Her Fore-Fins (which represent the Hands of the Man) she makes Use of in a very surprising Manner; as wiping her Face and Eyes, and washing herself as naturally as a Christian. Her Hind-Fins are twelve Inches in Length, and fourteen in Breadth, her Tail (which is small) represents that of a Fawn. She is hairy like a Dog, spotted like a Leopard, as soft as Velvet, and so very tame that any Child may handle her, even while she is eating her Food, which is in a Cistern of Water salted. She eats six or seven Pounds of Flesh at a Meal, will kiss and give her Hand to her Keeper as a Dog will to his Master, and will roll and tumble at the Word of Command. She has been shewn twice before the Royal Family with great Applause, and allowed to be the greatest Curiosity in the three Kingdoms. Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg, VA] 18 July 1751: p 2
And, finally, a story of a Feejee mermaid panicking a ship’s crew. This is a strange story because most of the fake mermaids came from China and Japan—it would stand to reason that at least some of the Chinese sailors would have seen such a thing before. Perhaps something else was going on that upset the ships’ crews; the Western officers were often dismissive of the “superstitions” of ethnic groups they considered inferior and might have dismissed other concerns as “heathen” nonsense.
CHINESE CREW MUTINIED AGAINST SHIP’S CURIO
They Thought It Was a Devil and Deserted the Montrose.
SECOND CREW ALSO IN PANIC
They Burned Joss Sticks All the Way from Shanghai to Ward Off Evil.
A Japanese curio purchased by Capt. Robert Glegg of the British freighter Montrose, when his vessel was at Yokohama in August, caused one Chinese crew to mutiny and filled the second crew that was shipped with an unrest which did not end until the vessel reached port yesterday. As soon as she dropped her anchor off Quarantine the thirty-six Chinamen scampered below in a body to light their last package of joss sticks in thanksgiving over their safe arrival.
The curio which so frightened the Chinamen came from the interior of Japan. To the dried tail of a fish had been added an animal-like body, surmounted by a grinning head, looking much like the mummified head of a human infant. The body and head are covered with the fur of some animal, and the whole is mounted on a flat base as though the creature was lying on its stomach with the tail upright and curving over the head. It measures a foot from base to tip of tail, and peering out from the top of a stand in the half light of the officers’ mess room it presented a sight yesterday well calculated to alarm any one.
When Capt. Glegg brought the thing on board at Yokohoma the Chinese set up a chattering aft, and when the vessel left her pier they showed no great willingness to work. They made signs to warn off ill-luck every time they saw the skipper, and finally, when the Montrose left Shanghai, through Ah Lin, the bo’s’n, they made it known that the foreign devils could take their own vessel out of Hongkong, for they were going to quit.
The Montrose arrived at Hongkong on Sept. 15, and the crew picked up their joss sticks and marched down the gangway. The curio was hidden and a new crew shipped. The vessel left the port on the 17th, for Capt. Glegg wanted to take no chances of having to get another batch of coolies.
The “Devil” Grinned at Him.
It was Ah Fong, the Captain’s boy, who discovered the curio after Singapore had been left behind two days. He peered through the port light into the spare room on the starboard side of the officers’ messroom, and the creature grinned through the glass at him. Ah Fong did not stop running until he got to the joss house, which the crew had constructed in their quarters. He lighted a bunch of joss sticks before he told his discovery to Li Hung, the oldest Chinaman on board. The news spread among the crew with such rapidity that ten minutes after Ah Fong made his discovery the whole crew trooped forward to see the Captain.
“Say no good joss,” interpreted Leong Chang, the bo’s’n, as he waved his hand in the direction of the Captain’s quarters. What the skipper replied is not recorded, but the men went sullenly back to their work. That night fifty more joss sticks were lighted under the constantly burning lamp in their place of worship, and Fe Hing, the cook, had to spend a great part of his time between the galley and the josshouse keeping the sticks burning.
All during the remainder of the voyage the Chinamen avoided the place where the “bad joss” resided. When forced to pass that side of the deckhouse they took it on the run. The bo’s’n, an intelligent Chinaman, who speaks English after a fashion, and who is responsible for the crew, had to use great diplomacy in handling the men. Every time the wind came up with extra force or the vessel shipped great seas they cast dark looks toward the officers’ quarters and started more joss sticks going. When one of the men fell down the companionway it was the Captain’s “devil” that caused the accident, and when Sing Hoy fell ill they were sure he was bewitched by “joss in the Captain’s house.”
Joss Sticks Nearly All Burned.
They had about 100 packages of joss-sticks on board,” said First Officer Leonard James yesterday. “I don’t believe there are many of them left. They used them up last night in their great joy over escaping Davy Jones’s locker. “
Ah Fung was cleaning up the quarters, when the first officer suggested bringing out the Captain’s treasure. He gave one look at the closed door of the spare room, and then found he had urgent business on deck.
On Nov. 19 the Montrose ran into a severe northwest gale accompanied by frequent squalls and tremendous seas. For hours she ran with her decks awash. The fears of the crew again broke out, and again they appealed t the Captain to cast his Jonah overboard so that the “sun might smile.” It could not be a good joss, they argued, and certainly the ship would sink if the “bad joss” was not got rid of. When the weather moderated the tension relaxed.
The Montrose left Hongkong just six hours before the great typhoon, which did so much damage to shipping, but she got no part of the storm. The New York Times 4 December 1906: p. 11
You can find an interview with a maker of mermaids in this previous post.
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.