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Winter at the Beach: Part 3

Banff Merman on display at the Indian Trading Post: Wikipedia: InverseHypercube

While the coast of Delaware may have been treacherous, the Zwaanendael Museum celebrates the rich history of Sussex County by highlighting its maritime connections and stories of the people who lived and worked along Delaware’s southeastern coast.

I found the set of jaw molds altered to display the progress of scurvy particularly interesting, but then my sense of humor often devolves to the level of your average 10 year old. Similarly, the museum has one of two “authentic” mermen specimens in the state. This artifact is actually currently relevant.

Now referred to as Fiji mermen the objects are made up of the torso and head of a juvenile monkey sewn to the back half of a fish, covered in papier-mâché. It was a common feature of sideshows, which was presented as the mummified body of a creature that was supposedly half mammal and half fish, a version of traditional mermaid stories.

The exhibit which created the Fiji mermaid concept was popularized by P.T. Barnum, but has since been copied many times in other attractions, including the collection of Robert Ripley. The original exhibit was shown around the United States, but was lost in the 1860s when Barnum’s museum caught fire.

These events took place at around the time people discussed Charles Darwin’s 1859 book On the Origin of Species, as it was reviewed by Thomas Henry Huxley in the April 1860 issue of the Westminster Review. People from all stations of life began to question their place in the natural order. Hoaxes like the Fiji Mermaid were easily played on unsuspecting sea captains and visitors to the islands.

Welcome to the Zwaanendael Museum, a showcase for Lewes-area maritime, military, and social history

This story was first published in the News Journal in 2008, under the byline of Gail A. Sisolak. All copyrights reserved.

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Winter at Beach Part 2: Deep Sea Treasures

Coral encrusted china displayed as art object at Discover Sea Shipwreck Museum
© Gail A. Sisolak 2012

Objects recovered from lost ships can be viewed at the Discover Sea Shipwreck Museum, Fenwick Island, Delaware. An every changing display of coins, jewelry, china and ship artifacts, some recovered from the coast of Delaware and the Chesapeake Bay, tell tales of maritime history. You can try your hand looking for loot along Delaware’s Coin Beach, located north of the Indian River Inlet. The best time for beachcombing is after a nor’easter, said director Dale Clifton. If your hunt is unsuccessful you can always purchase recovered coins at the museum. (www.discoversea.com.)

Fabulous jewelry recovered from shipwrecks
© Gail A. Sisolak 2012

Explorer, diver; shipwreck historian Dale Clifton displays artifact prior to cleaning and identification
© Gail A. Sisolak 2012

This story was first published in the News Journal in 2008, under the byline of Gail A. Sisolak. All copyrights reserved.