Merman in private captivity, undisclosed location.
Merman in private captivity, undisclosed location.

Plague of the Merman Keepers

Feejee Mermaids and Mermen aren't as rare as we once thought. We've heard from several "private" owners. For the most part, they keep their treasures in basements, or in a secure personal displays -- the public not welcome. They don't provide us with an address to visit, instead hoping we can shed light on the dollar value of the shrunken critters.

This is difficult, since the market for mermen is confused by a shadowy cabal of "gaff" artisans -- fabricating new merman today.

Doug "Phantom Of The Midway" Higley contacted us with a wild tale about carnival curiosities: He has crafted many of the creatures out there, or knows the story behind who did:

One of Doug Higley's Feejee Mermaids.
One of Doug Higley's Feejee Mermaids.

My Mermaids are all over the place, most being shown at flea markets and small Fairs. I do have one at a tiny antique shop (Caldwell's) on Old 101 in Leucadia, Ca. 'See: The Strange Thing! 25 cents.'"

"I finished a Chupacabra in 2001 for a big circus act out of Phoenix who wanted "something weird to show the public..." Probably the best piece I ever did. The fact is the 'mermaids' have been made out of all sorts of things for hundreds of years. Tate used to use Toilet Paper and wood paste -- sometimes! There is no such thing as a 'Fake of a Fake' they're all good and true to the spirit of the gaff."

Merman kept in a box.
Merman kept in a box.

"I also have the FACTS on Olaf The Giant. He was in my Tahoe 'True Wonders' museum in the early 90's on loan. He is the work of Nelson Supply, a turn of the century sideshow gaff company. There are some funny stories about that gaff! The big one is, the owner, Jim Schmidt, refused to believe it was a gaff (he paid a small fortune for it). Fact is, it's listed in the old Nelson Supply Catalog (late 1800's early 1900's) along with the banner. Beautifully done compared to the Tate pieces (ie: The Thing in Arizona), but major giveaways, like the legs being too fleshed out etc. It still fooled the Egg Heads though, and I had letters from universities wanting to study it."

Privately owned Feejee mermaid.

"The Voodoo Merman [in New Orleans] is a rubber gaff by Mark Frierson...created in the late '80s, possibly '90 or '91."

Higley also commented on the feejee mermaid acquisitions of one of the big museum franchises: "The Ripley's pieces are mostly (at least the ones I saw, like in Buena Park) just the carved WOODEN armature as the skin has long since wasted away...but hell, they don't care."

"As the last of the old time gaffers, I still love this stuff and it's a lot of fun for the public too. Problem is, these days they are FAR more gullible than in the old days! Ain't that a kick?"

Some people have to spoil all the fun.

Update: Joe Saiia taunts us with photos of his privately owned Merman. "We have a Merman of our very own! The kids love it!"

Update: Graham Trievel informs us that he recently purchased a Fiji Mermaid from a private collector.

Also see: The Merman's Home Page

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