In This Episode—S01E09

In today’s show we talk about ridiculous sideshow hoaxes like the Fiji mermaid, the German Wolpertinger, furry trouts, and tiny little aliens. Let’s explore that together!

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How the Legend of the Fiji Mermaids Became “Real”

Famous sideshow impresario, P.T. Barnum was the man most directly responsible for the birth, and rise to fame, of the legendary Fiji Mermaids

The hoax became reality when, in 1842, Barnum manipulated the New York Herald and two other newspapers to publish exclusive articles about the mermaids. The rest, as they say, is history.

Barnum was able to make the mermaid a hit, stumping naturalists and everyday gawkers alike. For decades people believed the creepy fish like creatures were, in fact, real.

Soon after Barnum’s original display, sideshows all over the world started “finding” similar mermaids. Research has suggested that the original was made as early as 1822 by Japanese sailors. That almost 200-year-old oddity was supposedly lost in a fire, but a few places still claim to have the original “true” mermaid.

100-years later, Robert Ripley displayed the mermaid as a debunked hoax in his New York City Odditorium. The brain-child of P.T. Barnum, the Fiji mermaid, was nothing more than the torso of a monkey sewn to the back half of a large fish.

Robert Ripley with a Fiji Mermaid

Robert Ripley with a Fiji Mermaid (not the woman)

What Do You Get When You Mix a Rabbit with an Owl, then add Antlers + Fangs?

A twisted version of a platypus? Close … meet the Bavarian Wolpertinger (yah) A taxidermic fusion of a bird of prey with a small woodland animal. Clever sideshow entrepreneurs (a.k.a. charlatans) have long used taxidermy to bring to life—well sort of—all kinds of legendary and mythological creatures.

The Wolpertinger in specific has been made by combining together everything like weasels and deer with owls and ducks. The Wolpertinger is also fabled to have saliva that can be used as an aphrodisiac.

You may be more familiar with Jackalopes, the American West’s antlered rabbit of legend; perhaps these two creatures are distant relatives? It would certainly make for an interesting family reunion.


One of many versions of a Wolpertinger

Could tiny little aliens have been found in Chile?

Anything’s possible, but the strange almost alien-looking mummified skeleton found near the Atacama desert in Chile was only about six and a half inches tall and was nicknamed Atta-Boy by Robert Ripley.

A second skeleton was found 10 years ago in the same location. UFO theorists have touted that the 8%  of “unknown” DNA found by the Stanford University researchers must be “undeniable proof” that “questions still need to be answered” … or in other words, it is definitely, most certainly, probably, not really, but almost conclusively perhaps something or other.

Robert Ripley, however, said the one he found was the subject of a full-body reduction by Jivaro natives, the creators of the world-famous, and very real, shrunken heads.

Robert Ripley holding "Atta-Boy"

Robert Ripley holding “Atta-Boy”

Today’s Special? Hairy Trout!

It is not Friday’s feature at your local seafood joint. The story goes that these furry trout would grow long, thick white hair to keep them warm in the frigid temperatures of Iceland, Canada, and sometimes Arkansas (seriously?) The offshoot story from Arkansas actually blames a hair tonic spill into the Arkansas River. Ok, NOW it makes perfect sense … you mean exactly like what happened to the TMNT in the sewer with the mysterious ooze.

Icelandic lore tells how these fish were a bad omen, and that eating a furry trout would turn you into a dinosaur. Which is, of course, why EVERY Icelandic child to this day begs for furry trout dinners (Furry Fish Sticks Yah!)

A more scientific explanation for the perpetuation of this myth might be that a fungus called Saprolegnia looks similar to white hair when it infects a fish.

The original American folklore tied to the furry trout theorized that most of these fish exploded when brought out of the water because of the drastic change in temperature. Like furry grenades. KA-BOOM! There goes the evidence … the world may never know. Believe It or Not!

Fur-bearing trout

Fur-bearing trout